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Q & A with Emily Devane, 22nd Award, Judge

    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
    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.
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Interview with Gaynor Jones, first-prize winner, June 2019 Award

We’re very pleased to interview Gaynor Jones following her win in the June Award judged by Christopher Allen It’s fascinating to hear Gaynor’s methods of writing, how she can produce marvellous pieces like ‘Cleft’ in the spaces she finds in day to day life. After her win, we saw her tweet that she had entered the Bath Flash Fiction Award eight times previously without any luck and her description of her writing journey here shows how persistent she is as a writer. We’re very much looking forward to the outcomes of the new writing project she is undertaking. It’s bound to be adventurous. And do pay attention to her tip to be a ‘flash rebel’ when writing a micro for our Award. She suggests that you dispense with any rules and ask yourself the question ‘Could anyone else have written this?’ A very good piece of advice.

Interview with Jude

  • Can you tell us how your wonderful first prize winning story, ‘Cleft’ came into being? Did it go through many drafts before you were satisfied?

I wanted to write a new story for the Bath competition. I have this method where I clear my head and count to 10 and see where my mind takes me. This time the question popped up – what have I never written about before? The answer was a father and son relationship. I thought about my father and the dimple in his chin that my granddad had. My brother and I have it too but my daughter doesn’t. I started thinking about family lines and the overall idea spooled from there. I wrote Cleft very quickly but it went through 8 drafts. Initial drafts were more focused on the protagonist and his husband and had a bit of a cheesy ending. I cut the husband and tried to focus on the 2 main men and the baby. I had some phrases that I loved but they had to be chopped to fit the word count and I think the story is better for that sparseness.

  • You have had many successes in recent years after a gap from writing. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey and the awards you have received?

I loved writing at school but was put off at university by a negative comment from a creative writing tutor and didn’t write again until I was around 28 I think, though I am blurry with dates. I enrolled on an online course and was writing sort of comic, commercial fiction and had a few little publications here and there. My first published piece was a micro comedy about mistreating childhood pets. I am quite open talking about my mental health and unfortunately I developed Generalised Anxiety Disorder a few years into my writing journey. I deleted everything I’d written, threw away hard copies, tried to destroy any trace of my writing. It felt incredibly frightening to have my words and my name out there in public. Fast forward a few years and I had a two year old daughter and I had recovered well with therapy and I thought ‘what do I actually want to do with my life? I want to be a writer.’ I decided to really go for it, and I chose to avoid a pen name as I didn’t want my anxiety to ‘win’. Everything since then has been a pushback against those wasted years. It was the Comma Press course with Lara Williams that really spurred me on, I got so much out of it and Lara was really positive about my work, which encouraged me to carry on once the course finished. I entered the Mairtín Crawford because I like the look of the mentoring prize and I was thrilled to win, I will never forget that phone call – talking professionally on the phone while I was dancing around my bedroom. When I was named Northern Writer of the Year at the Northern Soul Awards last year I was completely gobsmacked. It was the most surreal moment of my writing life. I still have my application on file and it is hilarious, it’s like a sleep deprived comic ramble through my life and I am so grateful that the judges got my sense of humour and enjoyed the story I submitted.

  • I believe you are involved in an event at the Edinburgh Fringe. We’d love to hear more about this

One of the strangest things, to me, about my writing career is that I’ve come to love spoken word. It’s very freeing to perform and luckily in Manchester there are plenty of opportunities. I met Jane Claire Bradley of ‘For Books’ Sake’ when I took her ‘Write Like A Grrl’ course and she is the most incredible, supportive person. I adore her. She encouraged me to do an open mic practise at a social event and since then I’ve performed around Manchester numerous times and even headlined spoken word events. It’s a real privilege to be on the bill for ‘That’s What She Said’ at the Edinburgh Fringe and I cannot wait to perform and watch the other performers.

  • You have also been teaching flash fiction in your local area. What do you like about teaching the short-short form?

I love teaching in general, my background is in education in various forms so I am well used to delivering workshops. I like teaching flash fiction because, especially for new writers, it feels achievable. People can come to a two hour workshop with me and leave with a full first draft. I’m very into experimental forms and unusual flash so it’s great to see people’s reactions when they read these weird stories and realise that they can have a go. And I do encourage people to play with form in flash, I love the way flash has moved on in the last few years, there’s so much experimentation and innovation nowadays. We’re hearing so many new voices rather than it being a niche form. It’s a wonderful time to be involved in flash writing.

  • When and where do you write? And do you have a writing muse – pet, person, object, place?

I have no writing routine. I don’t write every day, I don’t even write every week. I write when ideas come, or I sit and force myself to write, it depends on my mood, my life, my health. Every day is different. I don’t have time or space for a muse! I use my bed or the dining room table and I write on an iPad which is on its way out and hurts my wrists. None of it is ideal. I cannot write when my 4 year old is present, that’s impossible. So it’s either when she’s at school in the afternoons once all the housework is done and the puppy is sorted, or it’s once she’s asleep and I’ve had a bit of time to relax and eat and watch telly. I know some people sacrifice these things to make time to write but I don’t want to. I like watching telly. I do take my writing seriously though, I take it very seriously and have ambitions but I also know how important wind down time is for me, I would snap without it. This is why I get so much done at workshops or retreats – I just turn off and power down, there’s no constant refrain of Mummy, Mummy, there’s no puppy barking at the pigeons in the garden. Silent writing time amongst adults is just utter bliss for me. Rare, but bliss. If people with young children can find time to write, then that’s great, but I won’t beat myself up about it. Someone once told me ‘Raymond Carver used to go and write in his car while his children were young’ and I politely said ‘oh right’ but in my head I was thinking ‘well I’m fairly certain Raymond Carver wasn’t breastfeeding a baby with silent reflux while battling post-natal depression for two years’. People can be so dismissive and there’s this myth that if you’re a writer you’ll write no matter what. Well I do my best to balance life, health, family and writing and I don’t always get it right but I think I’m doing okay.

  • Are you someone who likes to write from prompts, like words or images? Or do you get ideas from elsewhere.

I do quite like writing to prompts, yes. I would say around half of my ideas just appear organically as if from nowhere and the other half come from prompts. I have a secret method of creating original stories that I teach on my ‘Go Weird or Go Home workshop’ and I’ve had a lot of success with that. We are so lucky to have the Internet too, you can think of, say, an animal, and go online and find out mythology and facts that you never would have known then weave them into a story. Recently I was trying to find out about a school teacher of mine from the 1980s and stumbled upon minutes from a 1976 social sciences meeting and its fascinating, I’m definitely to go mix it into a story somewhere. Writing is difficult enough so if prompts work for you, use them, don’t make life any harder than it has to be.

  • Writing projects on the go? Anything you’d care to tell us about?

Oh gosh, the short story collection that has been on my bio for eons. I am writing it, honestly, I think I’ve got about 8 stories so far but it is a long slog with so little writing time. I love my stories – it’s important that someone does! But they are so so weird and so dark and just bizarre. It’s the kind of stuff that American writers do so well, but because I’m Northern and they have that Northern dialect and references running through them it’s sometimes like a surreal, twisted version of Coronation Street. I’m not sure who is going to buy it but I’m going to finish it. The other thing I have going on is a new, large, project that is quite different – quite literary, quite serious, very un-Gaynorlike. I think it will surprise people. I don’t want to say too much about it as when it’s complete I’m hoping to enter it in a few competitions so I’ll preserve the mystery and anonymity.

  • Any tips for our Award entrants on writing a micro of 300 words or less?

I wouldn’t listen to me because I’m a bit of a flash rebel. I don’t ascribe to the notion that flash has to have forward motion, has to have a clear narrative, has to have anything. As long as the word count is right, give me lists, give me prose poetry, give me vignettes, give me half scripts half spells, give me whatever words you want to write. I love it when people are free in their writing and play. Somewhat controversially, I don’t need writers to justify these creative choices in anyway – I like experimentation for experimentation’s sake, I like weirdness for weirdness’ sake. It’s what I enjoy reading and writing.

Personally, I do like flash to have some emotional impact but another reader will tell you something else is just as important to them. My only bit of flash writing advice is: could anyone else have written this? Or could only you have written it? Answer that question honestly and ditch anything in the former category.

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