In this fascinating and wide-ranging interview with scientist and writer, Conor Haughton, who won second prize in the June round, judged by David Gaffney with his story ‘The Undertakers’ Jolly’ you can learn a couple of words of Esperanto. Inspiration for flash fiction can arrive at any time and for Conor it was at an Esperanto conference, by the sea in Aberystwyth, when he was a little drunk. I suggest, as well as reading his interview, you watch the short and entertaining video, of him at Ignite Bristol telling the more-or-less true story, complete with cartoon illustrations, of the time he was arrested in London. That event in Bristol was where he was inspired to begin writing and only four years ago. We love his idea of a science and literature spoken-word event and if Conor ever does set one up, a Bath Flash contingent would be there. As he lectures close-by in Bristol University, I’d also love to sneak in to one of the lectures and grasp a little more about mathematical principles via his story telling to explain how theorems work. His longer writing project to write a story, not about a computer programmer but about programming itself sounds very interesting. Especially as it needs to contain some computer code and ways of explaining it. Finally, I’ve now discovered that possibly one of the vegetables in the picture Conor supplied to go with his bio, is a horse radish. Read in Full
Tim Craig, who won third prize in the June Award judged by David Gaffney with his story ‘Northern Lights’ only recently began writing flash. We love how Tim was prompted to write in this form by his friend, Mandy Wheeler’s suggestion that ‘Life’s too short to write long things’. It’s a great incentive to get into writing short short fiction and then perhaps to stitch the pieces up into longer fictions like novellas or novels. After I received Tim’s answers to my questions, I asked him for a photograph of his dog, as he mentioned it. We’ve noticed many of our prize winners for this contest own dogs. He’s included a picture of it looking very chilled under a lattice of shade. We hope he gets some quiet time himself soon to do some more writing. He’s a very good reader and we’d really like to hear more of his stories. The other picture included here of what he calls ‘the hairy babies’ he saw in a French cafe, looks like a perfect story prompt. And his tip quoted from Ray Bradbury, to think of rejection as nothing more than a wrong address is a further incentive for anyone to get those words down on paper and not worry about how they will be received.
- Can you tell us what inspired your powerful and atmospheric flash fiction ‘Northern Lights?
- I did a fair amount of hitch-hiking when I was younger, and came across some interesting people on the way – a bit like my character Pavel the truck driver, so maybe it was that. There’s certainly something magical about entering a stranger’s life and hearing their story in such a confined space and limited amount of time. In that respect, I suppose it’s a bit like flash fiction itself.
Read KM Elkes first prize winning story, ‘Extremities’ selected by David Gaffney in the June round of the Award for an example of great flash fiction. Ken’s a writing tutor as well as a writer, and he ran an excellent workshop on ‘voice’, an aspect of writing he refers in this interview, at the recent Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol. He gives further useful writing advice, including “write hot, edit cool…, buy (or at least read) the publications you want to appear in (it creates a virtous circle. Pay close attention to language… don’t submit your sense of worth as a writer along with your story.” There are several more tips to inspire below. To stimulate his own writing, Ken frequently takes pictures of settings or objects that can evoke a mood and also photographs people and places when he is travelling. There’s some very evocative photographs included here that are likely to spark off stories from anyone who sees them. We now expect entries in our next competition about older men, beaches and prayers for success…
- Can you tell us how your powerful and affecting winning story ‘Extremities’ came into being?
Ever had an earworm – a song that just won’t let go, that you keep playing over and over in your head? Extremities started like that – a single, crisp image of a hand lying on the floor of a forest while around it rain made a sound like applause. I carried that hand around with me a long time, but didn’t really know what to do with it. I put it in a notebook, like you might press a flower hoping to preserve it, but those fingers scratched against the pages until I had to pay attention. Eventually I went into the realm of What If? Along with prompts, What Ifs are the firestarters of fiction. What if the hand was just one of many limbs littering the forest, accidentally cut off in logging accidents. What if it was so common, people didn’t care that much. I found momentum, images coalesced, and with them came themes and tone and the big one (for me at least) voice. Not the voice of the hapless, handless Bobby, but his so-called friend, who has a distinct tone of detachment (see what I did there!). After all that, it took about an hour to write the basic text that formed the story.
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It’s always exciting when we reach the end of the latest Award – and this one was no exception. Nine hundred and three entries from twenty-nine different countries.
First of all, I’d like to say a big thank you to Jude and her team for asking me to be the judge of this round of the Bath Flash Fiction Award. I judge a lot of flash fiction competitions, and I used to write a lot of flash fiction too (not so much now as I’m concentrating on novels, graphic novels and longer stories). It was a pleasure to read all of the 50 stories that made the long list and as ever it was a fascinating dip into the psyche of creative writers at this point in time. Some of the titles were tempting enough on their own; Fat Girls Have Fine Nails. Elephants In Flip Flops. Valentines Day At The Walrus Colony. Tupperware Genie. What on earth could these stories be about? I was drawn in immediately. On a sentence by sentence basis, there were lots of examples of great writing here by great writers. Yet, often these were the one that didn’t make it. The ones that did make the top twenty, and ultimately the top five, were the ones that allowed the story and the ideas to shine through above everything else.
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David Gaffney lives in Manchester, UK. He is the author of the novel Never Never (2008) plus the flash fiction and short story collection Sawn-Off Tales (2006), Aromabingo (2007), The Half Life of Songs (2010) and More Sawn-Off Tales (2013). The Guardian said ‘One hundred and fifty words by Gaffney are more worthwhile than novels by a good many others.’ He has written articles for The Guardian, Sunday Times, Financial Times and Prospect Magazine and was judge for the 2015 Bridport Prize. His story ‘The Staring Man’ is featured in the 2016 collection Best British Short Stories, his new novel, All The Places I’ve Ever Lived came out in February 2017 on Urbane and his graphic novel with Dan Berry, The Three Rooms in Valerie’s head is out now with Top Shelf.
- In your excellent article for the Guardian in 2012 about flash fiction, you listed the following tips for writing micro fiction – start in the middle, don’t use too many characters, make sure the ending isn’t at the end, sweat your title, make your last line ring like a bell, write long then go short. Is there anything else you would add six years down the line?