28th Award Judge, Matt Kendrick

Matt Kendrick is a writer, editor and teacher based in the East Midlands, UK. His work has been featured in various journals and anthologies including Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, Cheap Pop, Craft Literary, Fractured Lit, Ghost Parachute, and the Wigleaf Top 50. He writes a monthly craft essay called “Prattlefog & Gravelrap”, and facilitates the “Mondettes” newsletter where he invites different writers to pick their favourite pieces of flash fiction and analyse what makes them tick. He also runs the Welkin Writing Prize. Find out more about him on his website: www.mattkendrick.co.uk

We are delighted that writer, editor and writing tutor and awesome all-round supporter of writers in general, Matt Kendrick, has agreed to judge our 28th Award. Read my Q and A with him. Such interesting answers!

  • You will have read hundreds of flash fictions through your editorial and teaching work as well as those from previous competition judging. What do you think are the components of the most successful pieces?
    I recently calculated that, between those different hats, I’ve critically engaged with over 8000 pieces of flash in the past five years, so I’ve seen a whole breadth of different approaches, narratives and voices, and I’m continually blown away by the number of talented writers out there. In terms of what makes a piece successful, that of course is a very subjective thing. If a story lands on the page from a reader’s perspective in a way that matches the writer’s intention, then for me, the piece is successful. However, it might not be the most successful in a competition. Competition success, I think, is its own beast. Especially, in a big competition like the BFFA, you need to tick several boxes in order to do well. First, I’d say make sure you’ve found that glint of originality—what makes your piece stand out from the crowd? Second, distil the story down to something that fits the container. 300 words is a tiny space—make the idea simple enough so that it doesn’t feel crammed in. Third, make sure the surface layer of the story is working—often in the search to add ambiguity, nuance and depth, writers don’t pay enough attention to the surface layer. Fourthly, you do still want those depths—I’ll read each piece several times before making my final decisions, so give me something new to discover on every pass. Fifthly, make me feel something—that’s so important! And as a final bonus component, don’t neglect the level of words—can you weave in some language highlights? Can you create textural contrast and tonal shades?

  • Can you give us a brief rundown of the many services you offer to writers? What do you enjoy about creating courses and teaching?
    I teach a series of two-week courses under the umbrella term “Write Beyond the Lightbulb” which currently includes “Colourful Characters”, “Glorious Words”, “Go With The Flow”, and “Lyrical Writing.” These are all online, asynchronous courses, and are a chance to play around with sentences and words in a safe-space environment. As an editor, I work with writers on everything from microfiction to novels, and I also mentor writers on a one-to-one basis. In all these different roles, I feel very privileged to be entrusted with a writer’s work. A lot of writing involves bearing your soul on the page, so asking someone to read that work in a critical fashion can be a scary thing to do. Hopefully, my feedback style makes a writer feel encouraged and excited, but it is still a privilege to be trusted in this way. Another thing I love about my work is seeing writers travel along their writing journeys. Some of the writers I started working with three or four years ago are now getting publishing deals or finding their flash fiction on the Wigleaf Top 50, but it’s also wonderful to see the less talked-about successes—writers who gain a confidence they didn’t have before, writers who achieve their first ever publication, writers who manage to complete the first draft of their novel.

Further details on my courses: https://www.mattkendrick.co.uk/courses-workshops
Further details on my editing services: hhttps://www.mattkendrick.co.uk/editing-feedback

  • When did you become interested in writing very short fiction? What do you like about writing in the short-short form? Can you link us to one of your favourite pieces of writing?
    I first became aware of flash fiction around ten years ago, but I didn’t really fall in love with it until I started reading pieces by the likes of Kathy Fish, Gaynor Jones, Nuala O’Connor, and Sharon Telfer. Then I tried to write my own and discovered it was really, really hard! Now that I find it slightly less hard, I think the thing I enjoy about it most is the potential to add so many layers of meaning right on top of each other. You can’t necessarily do this in a novel, but in flash, you can keep on excavating to your heart’s content. One piece that, for me, does this wonderfully well is “Things Left And Found By The Side Of The Road” by Jo Gatford. I also love the form of this story and the way it indulges in language—these are two other aspects of flash that I really love; it’s a genre with so much creative freedom.
  • How is your novel going? We’d love to know what it’s about… unless that’s a secret
    My novel? Eek! It’s currently at the stage of a relationship where it has survived several tempestuous arguments, a break-up, a couple of restraining orders and a half dozen counselling sessions, but mostly it’s going well. A couple of years ago, I firmly switched my writing motivation from writing for publication to writing for joy, so the only person I’m really trying to please is myself, and so far, I’m managing that. As far as the plot goes, it’s slightly (very?) off-the-wall. It’s about a man who sets up a museum for old sayings which he illustrates using flash fiction, and since I’m method writing as the character and writing all the stories that he references, I’m keeping my hand in with writing flash at the same time. My hope is that I’ll end up with a mirrored collection of flash and prose poetry that chimes against the novel. And if I’m very ambitious this might become something much more interdisciplinary with artwork and music (possibly my own), and dance, spoken word and mime performances (definitely not my own) to interpret the various stories and sayings. So, you know, a small project! It will probably keep me occupied for the next ten years.
  • Do you like a musical soundtrack when you are writing?
    Music was my first artistic love. When I was younger, I attended Trinity music college and I used to play the piano to a pretty high standard (past me was a lot more talented than current me!) So, I guess people would expect me to answer yes to this question, but instead, it’s a definite NO! This is because my method for writing involves listening to the rhythm and sound of the sentences. If there were music in the background, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. However, I often listen to music for inspiration, and some of my published flash could definitely be described as musically ekphrastic. And with my current project, I’m attempting to do the opposite—to create pieces of music that interpret a story or saying. For example, I recently published a story called “Maybe there is” that features a dripping bucket of milk and I’ve written a piece of music where the drip is represented by an increasingly repeated note.
    • Finally, would you give readers an editing tip for flash of 300 words or less?

    • My top tip is to focus on your ending. Everything pivots around that. How does it connect with the start? Now that you know where you’re going, have you started in the right place to create a journey through the piece? Does that journey work with your endpoint? Look at your title—does it chime with the ending in some way? In terms of the ending itself, does it leave a reader on the right emotional note? Is that emotion being earned? Does the ending give a reader a springboard to both reflect on what they’ve just read and allow them to imagine what might come next? Is the rhythm and tempo of the ending working in the strongest way? For me, the ending is the most important piece of the puzzle. A brilliant ending can elevate an otherwise ordinary piece. A slightly flat ending can puncture an otherwise dazzling story.

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