Originally from the U.K., Nod Ghosh is a graduate of the Hagley Writers Institute in Christchurch, New Zealand. Flash fiction, poems and short stories have been published in numerous journals, including the New Zealand publications Landfall, JAAM and Takahē.Nod’s story story ‘The Cool Box’ won second prize in the June 2017 round of the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Truth Serum Press has published two books: The Crazed Wind (a novella in flash, 2018), and Filthy Sucre (three novellas, 2020). Nod has judged short story and poetry competitions and regularly offers critiques in a range of genres including flash fiction and novels. Nod was associate editor for Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction (2016), and is a relief teacher at Write On − The School for Young Writers in Christchurch.
- Can you tell us more about Filthy Sucre your newest collection of three novellas in flash published by Truth Serum Press?
As you mention below, the three novellas in Filthy Sucre were written to prompts provided by Nancy Stohlman in her annual Flashnano event. Each collection was compiled in the month of November, from 2016 to 2018. After writing the first two or three stories, it became apparent each year what I wanted the sum of the parts to be, and how the main protagonists’ characters would develop.Sugar in the Folds, Sand in the Creases centres on Vincent, a man who can’t keep it in his pants, whom women are strangely drawn towards. Another Silent Movie features Roley who is haunted by the disappearance of a fifteen-year-old boy. A boy he is in love with. A Benign Deity is about Albert, who is not what he seems. Albert is everywhere, including in places he shouldn’t be, at times he ought not to be. Is he a man? Is he something else?
All three novellas feature loss, futile love and misguided manipulation. One cheeky character pops up in each collection, providing another cohesive link. Fellow Christchurch author Zoë Meager summarises the themes in her introductory blurb …”people being kind and brave, rebelling, giving in, and doing some very shitty things to each other.”
- On the panel you recently participated in for NFFD New Zealand you talked about writing to prompts and how that’s successful for you. Daily prompts by Nancy Stohlman during Flashnano in November helped you write each of the novellas in your collection. Can you give our contestants a prompt for them to write a new flash fiction?
Nancy Stohlman’s Flashnano events have been running online for eight years and attract up to 800 participants. The event provides a sense of community, camaraderie and companionship in addition to the prompts themselves. Authors share stories, encourage one another, moan about the state of the planet, and lick each other’s wounds.
The upside of a prompt is that it can navigate writing away from the tropes and norms a writer usually focuses on. You could liken it to two people following a recipe, but producing subtly different results. The size you cut your potatoes alters the texture the pieces impart to the gravy. Including a scene with a group of cacti, when you wouldn’t normally think to write about cacti imparts a different flavour to your story.
Here are ten prompts:
The darkness beneath
Enigmatic historical figure
A vehicle breaks down
- Did writing the novellas in Filthy Sucre and your previous novella in flash The Crazed Wind, alter your way of thinking about and writing individual flash fictions?
Yes it did. Novella-in-flash requires each story should stand alone. However, they lend themselves to severe ‘paring away’ compared with independent stories for separate publications. The reader will experience each story with prior knowledge of the characters and what they want. Some ‘stories’ in the books were scandalously short, only a few sentences long. That starkness has carried over into the way I write flash outside the novella form. I leave more unsaid, because I found removing unnecessary repetition and explanation still leaves an intact story.
- Have you any other projects on the go? And has the current situation affected your writing.
- I usually work on multiple projects simultaneously.
Currently I am expanding and re-drafting a novella-in-flash Toy Train, which examines the topic of casual sexual abuse. I want to encourage dialogue in this area. As a writer, making a story is a way bringing the conversation to the table without being didactic. I hope to send Toy Train out later in the year. I’m also redrafting my third novel, Paper Prison, which is a speculative utopian/dystopian contradiction featuring a disabled protagonist.I’m polishing several short stories and giving them a kick up the backside prior to submission to upcoming competitions.I’m preparing a spoken word true-life piece for a podcast.
I critique work for other authors, and occasionally teach young people and adults. The teaching in particular has been different recently. I’d never used on line media such as Zoom for teaching until SARS-CoV-2 altered the way we do things.
Apart from Covid-19, the virus also causes afflictions that affect writing such as ‘What’s-the-Pointism’. Related conditions include ‘Don’t-Be-Too-Hard-on-Yourself-itis’ and ‘Open-a-packet-of-Crisps-and-Bottle-of-Wine-Instead Syndrome’.
Speaking to other writers, these pathologies are not uncommon. When the world is crumbling and vulnerable people are falling through the cracks, it seems morally corrupt to worry about using too many adverbs (badly). It feels decadent to be disappointed about cancelled book launches or how the financial constraints on the publishing industry will affect one small part of the book manufacturing and distribution process: the writer.
The antidote is this: a reminder that worrying about the situation won’t change it. We need stories. If we don’t use our minds to make something meaningful when we can, we might regret it later, when we can’t.
- What style of flash fiction most appeals to you?
I was involved in ‘FlashFlood’ (UK National Flash Fiction Day) at the end of May. We selected flash fiction pieces to showcase the best work in the genre globally. The team reviewed previously published and new work. In my closing statement, I mentioned that the stories covered wide variety of subjects.
Certain ‘hot topics’ tend to be popular at certain times. I didn’t want to be prescriptive and say we’d seen too many stories about ‘forgetful old people’, ‘apocalypse’ or ‘the plight of migrants’. If a story shone, it could be selected, irrespective of the fact that several people had already written about mermaids, tonsillectomies or purple unicorns. It’s the originality in how the subject was handled that counted.
Selections were made primarily on the quality of the language. Elements I paid particular attention to included:
the finesse an author used to craft sentences, word choices, rhythm and patterning;
how the writer kept the reader’s attention by displaying care with story structure; maintaining clarity, even when layering and underlying meaning was present.
- And related to that, what ingredients for you would make a stand out flash fiction story?
A carefully chosen title that intrigues and invites
Check for freshness and originality
A cupful of concrete nouns
A finely sifted soupçon of adjectives
An assortment of well crafted sentences
A cupful of conflict
(Word) process using a hook the reader cannot easily disentangle from
Treat the subject or theme sympathetically to allow poignancy without pathos
Beat out clichés with a well-paced rhythm
Work at it long enough to solidify
Trim away preamble without casting out the magic
Decorate with layers of meaning
Allow to stand before sending
- Any final tips for finessing flash fictions? Especially 300 word pieces, the maximum word length for our Award.
Consider these points:
Brevity of language, compression is key.
Start when you must, finish when you can.
Leave space for the reader’s creative response.
Pace and story arc.
Show don’t tell.
Characters should be well balanced and have plausible motivations.
Consider: conflict is the basis of drama.
Vary sentence length.
Use rhythm well, use patterns and repetition effectively.
Consistency of tense, point of view.
Thank you, Jude and BFFA for the opportunity to answer these questions.