To give you some last minute inspiration if you are thinking of entering our 25th Award, judged by Sara Hills, which closes on Sunday 8th October (three weeks), here is a Q & A with our June first prize winner, William Davidson. William also won first prize in our inaugural Bath Flash Fiction Award, back in 2015 with Radio Alarm. He is the second writer who has won first prize on two occasions. Sharon Telfer is the other writer who has won twice, with a gap of a few years in between wins. I asked William about rhythm and irony in his stories, among other things. He has also sent us a picture of York Station, where the story was set and a Cold War Bunker in York which inspired another of his stories, which was shortlisted in 2022.
Jude, September, 2023.
Q & A with William
- Can you let us know the inspiration for ‘Remembered Yellow’, your wonderful first prize winning story?
It came from a prompt in my brilliant writing group – I think it was about using something from nature as a plot point. I’d read a news story about York groundsel coming back from extinction and that was the first thing I thought of. It’s a plant that’s often found by railways and York station is such an evocative setting for me.
- Tim Craig, our judge, commented on the rhythm of the story and how that adds another, layer to the piece. You also won first prize in our inaugural contest in 2015 with an excellent comic story Radio Alarm, (which I have linked to above) that has a strong rhythmical quality. Is that something that you usually pay attention to a lot when you are writing?
Yes, definitely. I read aloud as I write – obviously sometimes under my breath depending on where I am! It’s a good way to check the rhythm. I think fiction writers can learn a lot from poets, especially in terms of taking care at word level, and considering repetition and rhythm. There’s a fine line with repetition between being effective and being too much.
- You have several other stories which have been shortlisted or longlisted in Bath Flash Fiction Award over the years. They are memorable for their disturbing and ironic take on aspects of modern life. ‘House Rules for the Bunker’ was shortlisted by Karen Jones in our Feb 2022 award and is published in ‘Dandelion Years’, our 2022 anthology.’House Rules for the Bunker’, is a list story, playing upon Airbnb instructions. After various chilling rules suggesting the reduced quality of life inside and out of the bunker, it ends with, ‘Don’t forget to leave a review and like us.’ Would you agree irony is a hallmark of your writing?
I often use settings that exist in York – like the Cold War Bunker. York is like Bath – it feels layered and rich in stories. I’m interested in awkward relationships – between people and between people and places, and irony works there.
- Congratulations too, on your shortlisting in this year’s Bath Short Story Award with ‘Best in the Living World,’ a story which will be published in the BSSA 2023 anthology later this year. Do you find you think in a different way when you write short stories, as opposed to flash stories of 300 words or under?
- Thank you! That’s such a good question. I remember Sarah Hall talking about there being a shape to a short story. I feel like I’m working out the shape as I write a short story. There’s space to work with different modes, between dialogue, description, action and reflection, and the story takes shape. There’s some give in terms of structure. With flash, I concentrate on every detail working and it has to work and there’s no give in the structure because it’s all there in front of you and it has to stand up for itself!
- Are you working on any writing projects at the moment?
Yes, I’m finishing a novel which is set (you’ll be gobsmacked to hear) in York.
- In our last Q & A with you after your 2015 first prize win, we asked you for a writing tip for flash writers.
“Work at it and be fearless and trust your instincts”.
It’s a very good tip, which I think is worth reproducing again here. I think you have demonstrated it admirably in ‘Remembered Yellow’. Would you add anything more to this tip now, eight years on?
I’d say keep the faith – keep writing. And talk to other writers. I get such a lot out of being in a writing group – we met at workshops run by the amazing writer and teacher, Susan Elderkin. The Flash Fiction Festival is fantastic! In some ways, writing is a solitary thing to do, but it can be social and collaborative too. In 2015, I was hesitating about starting university to study creative writing, but then winning the Bath Flash Fiction Award gave me the boost to go to York St John and I loved it, so thank you!