Q & A with Mairead Robinson, 1st Prize winner, February 2024

Read Jude’s spring equinox interview with first-prize winner Mairead Robinson to find out, among other very interesting things about her writing, how she wrote her stunning winning flash selected by our 26th Award Judge Susmita Bhattacharya. You’ll also find links to more of her brilliant stories, and you can try out writing flash to all permutations of the colour ‘yellow’, Mairead’s prompt for a spring-based flash fiction now the celandines, daffodils and primroses are out. Earlybird discounted entries for our 27th Award finish on April 14th. Final deadline 2nd June. Judge Michelle Elvy

Q & A with Mairead

  • Congratulations on winning the February 2024 BFFA, judged by Susmita Bhattacharya, with your extraordinary and brilliant story, A Palimpsest of Cheerleaders. Many writers on social media, said that they were completely blown away by your writing. As were we at Bath Flash. Can you say what inspired the piece, and how you arrived at the title?
    The original draft of the story came from a Writers’ HQ prompt, Cheerleader v Prom Queen, which immediately had me thinking about American High Schools, and led me down a rabbit hole of watching cheerleader training videos on You Tube. I didn’t start writing with a fully formed plan of what I wanted to achieve; rather, the story evolved from the basic idea of three teenage girls forever stuck in cheerleader mode, having been shot dead by a high school shooter. The original flash was longer, and there was more focus on the young man who had killed them, but in stripping back the word count I felt the emotional impact of the story came more from the lost hopes and dreams of the girls, and by extension, the lost hopes and dreams of the mothers mourning their daughters in the dug outs. I teach teenagers, and am often struck at how they all have so much potential, but tend to be hung up on short-term goals (as reflected by my cheerleaders’ quite shallow aspirations of being prom queen, getting a boyfriend, a vague aspiration to go to college). Obviously, they grow out of it as they get older, and nothing dampens that potential, but in the story, those bright futures are cut short. I wanted the girls to remain vivacious and full of life, as I daresay that’s how they would remain in the memories of those left behind. The idea of them being a palimpsest (such a great word!) came from that; the concept that though they are gone, they continue to exist in some form, like the erased markings on a manuscript. The title came after the story was written – I’m a sucker for collective nouns, and the title seemed to echo the sentiment of the flash.
  • You told me recently you only started writing flash in May 2023. Can you say more about what got you started?
    I’ve always written on and off – I completed a novel a few years ago, which I self-published after getting disheartened at the whole commercial publishing process. I started writing a second, but felt I needed the support of a writing community to keep me going with it. I joined Writers’ HQ with that intention, but found myself writing flash pieces for their flash forum, and got hooked both on reading and writing flash. I love the challenge of telling stories in such compact spaces, the way so much can be distilled into so few words, and the sheer variety of approaches writers take to the art of storytelling.
  • You also won second prize in the October Award with Butterfly Effect. Another marvellous story, interestingly, also from the point of view of a dead girl (this time from suicide) with very memorable details. It’s a breathless paragraph story. Do you like trying out different structures in flash?
    Yes, absolutely. Anytime I read a flash with an interesting or slightly different structure, I try it out. On a few occasions I’ve written stories with more conventional narrative structure, and they haven’t worked, or have felt a bit lacklustre; rewriting in a new form often reveals aspects of a story that have lurked in the background previously, or take the story in a new direction, which can feel really exciting. I’d recommend that anyone try out a different form or structure for a flash they’re struggling with, or to write one from scratch just to see what happens.

You have been successful in other places too. Can you link us to any of those stories?
  • Although you are a self -described addict of flash fiction, you are also writing a novel. Has writing flash influenced the way you are drafting this? And would you like to tell us more about it?
    I’ve learned a tremendous amount from writing flash, and am currently rewriting the novel I self-published a few years ago, using what I’ve learned from flash to tighten the edges and hopefully make it a better, more streamlined story. Once that’s done, I’m hoping to apply flash more fully to the second novel I’m writing, using flash as a ‘vehicle’ to reveal my main character’s backstory alongside the more conventional, linear narrative of the main plot. All I need is time, and a lot of coffee. 

  • Do you have a designated writing place where you live? Music on or off? Pets as inspiration?
    I write at a desk in my dining-room-which-isn’t-a-dining-room, and prefer quiet, but do take inspiration from music and radio when I’m not writing. I also spend a lot of time thinking (which counts as writing, right?). That happens anywhere and everywhere, but particularly when I’m out walking my dog, Flea, who at all other times, is more of a hindrance than a help; I love her to bits though, so there’s nothing to be done about that.

And as it’s the spring equinox , can you give us a spring inspired writing prompt for anyone thinking of writing a story for our next award?
    I live on Dartmoor, and the gorse is about the only splash of colour through the fog and gloom of the moors at the moment. I’ve got celandines and daffodils popping up in the garden too, so my spring inspired prompt is ‘yellow’.
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