In A Flash: Creativity and the Power of a Small Group

Change the EndingFollowing on from my review of the flash-fiction anthology Change the Ending on Monday, I welcome its curator, Dawn Reeves to my blog to talk about her involvement with and her hopes for the project. Over to you, Dawn …

Spreading creativity is inspiring!

I like what’s weird, wonderful and unexpected about the world, the sort of stuff that lies just beneath the surface of everyday life. And I’m one of life’s half full type people who believe it’s possible to make a difference. Small changes matter and big changes don’t happen by themselves. If you share any of these sentiments, you’ll find something in the Change the Ending collection to interest you. I started the project back in June and as Natalie’s review highlights, the collection is a quirky mix of creative stories about the behind the scenes bits of public life and people doing something to change it for the better.

My behind the scenes experience, producing the book – has been similar – unusual, challenging but also really uplifting. I know local government can be a hard sell, there’s precious light and people don’t know where the end of the tunnel is. I genuinely didn’t know what stories would emerge, what the collection as a whole look like, what it would become and what would become of it? So although the project is very close to my heart and I was determined to make it happen, at many points it felt pretty risky.

To keep me from losing the plot – I kept my focus on the practicalities, basically just doing it. I wrote a story myself, I ran workshops on how to get going with flash fiction, and supported, cajoled and chased anyone who showed any interest to have a go. I worked with a fantastic editor, Lisa Hughes, and Quarto Design, who made the book look and feel very classy.

Some of the tricky bits to negotiate included a stunning story about a tragedy that got pulled at the last minute because a Council was worried about it being misinterpreted. We had to decide what to do with a few stories containing lots of swearing (played safe in the end and took most of it out, still not sure about that decision though?) We had an eclectic mix of contributors, many more used to writing reports than fiction and some that had great ideas but had busted the word count three times over. Unfortunately we had to turn some stories down just because we had too many, which wasn’t a problem I thought we’d have to be honest. The great thing is that people got the idea and came forward with inspiring content.

This book aims to Change the Ending through stimulating a different debate, from the reviews so far I know it’s both entertaining and thought provoking. Does it really change things? In the end readers will be the judge of that but somehow – magically almost – it exists. It’s made me really positive about the power of story-telling and undertaking new creative projects in future.

I love Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” Hats off to all the people who’ve pulled together the story collections that Natalie has reviewed, I appreciate the work, energy and imagination needed. And good luck to you with however you’re going about Changing the Ending!

Dawn updated photo 081013You can find Dawn at her website. She also tweets as @Futuredawn. Change the Ending: flash fiction about the future of public life is published by Shared Press and available in paperback and as an e-book.

In A Flash: Self-Publishing ‘Marrow’ by Simon Sylvester

MarrowAs a writer, I’m always looking for ways to share my work with the world, so when the opportunity arose to pick Simon Sylvester’s brains about why he chose to self-publish Marrow, his flash-fiction collection (reviewed here), I couldn’t resist. I hope you find Simon’s story as fascinating and inspiring as I do. Over to you, Simon …

In A Flash: Marrow

In May 2013, I was lucky enough to have Quercus take on my Scottish-island-murder-mystery The Visitors. For the next year, I lived in a twilight world of redrafts, rewrites and revisions, and although I had ideas in mind for my next few novels, I didn’t want to start anything big while I was still so engrossed in The Visitors. I had a lot of time between revisions, though, and I was itching to fill it with stories. I started writing lots of flash fiction – two or three pieces a week. These shorter stories satisfied my hunger, but kept me from committing to a distracting bigger project.

As The Visitors progressed along the traditional route, I found myself more and more curious about the mechanics of publishing. I needed a sense of how it worked. Self-publishing a collection of my flash pieces was the obvious choice.

The first step was collecting the stories. At the first pass, I had about 35 in mind. As I began redrafting, however, it became plain that some didn’t fit the overall tone – they were too whimsical, or too explicit, or too long. I cut until the collection felt cohesive, then bounced them off half-a-dozen friends as editors/proofreaders/punchbags.

I used the basics of InDesign to put the book together. It started out ugly and inefficient, but came together in a slow whirl of late nights, colour swatches, beer, gutters, bleed and trim. The cover is a walrus skull, taken from the British Library Flickr stream – more than a million historical pictures under Creative Commons licensing. I put my original cover on Facebook and took advice from dozens of people on how to improve it. I loved sharing that part of the process.

I had 100 copies printed, and I’ve been selling them at readings and through my blog. I think I have about 30 left. I’ve never made any massive effort to sell it or promote it. I enjoyed making it, and I’ll definitely do it again. I have the next two collections lined up. One of them is an expanded collection of my old Twitter Road Trip micro stories, and the other will be similar to Marrow.

I never considered seeking a publisher for the stories. With wonderful exceptions like J. Robert Lennon, Dan Rhodes and David Gaffney, I’ve never sensed any real hunger in the wider industry for flash fiction. I enjoy writing it, and I especially enjoying performing it, but I don’t think it’s taken seriously by mainstream publishers. Open mics and communities are where it really comes to life. That’s one of the reasons I love Flashtag and the Manchester scene – they make flash fiction really accessible. Gumbo Press are now looking for collections, which is great, and if I hadn’t already self-published, I would have probably submitted the collection for their consideration. But then I wouldn’t have the satisfaction of all those late-night hours of typesetting and kerning – the cursing, and the howling, and then the getting it right – the crowd-sourced cover. I made something, and I’m proud of that.

Image: Neil Thomas Douglas Photography
Image: Neil Thomas Douglas Photography

You can find Simon at his website and follow him on Twitter. Marrow is available to buy directly from Simon. The Visitors was published by Quercus Books in June 2014 and is available from Amazon.

1000words: An Interview with Tim Stevenson

1000wordsToday, I welcome Tim Stevenson to my blog. Tim is a 1000words National Flash-Fiction Day Competition winner and the author of the flash-fiction collection The Book of Small Changes which I reviewed here on Monday. In case you didn’t read my review, let me summarise it for you: The Book of Small Changes is very, very good. I enjoyed the writing and the stories immensely, and so I have invited Tim here today to talk about both … as well as a few other things.

Hi, Tim. Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. I know it’s a long time ago now, but can you tell us what prompted you to enter the 2013 1000words NNFD competition?

Hi Natalie, thank you for having me.

I had found out about Flash-Fiction through a course at New Writing South run by Vanessa Gebbie and Tania Hershman (many thanks to my wife for driving me down to Brighton for the day, we had a wonderful time and she has just learned she has been short-listed for the Bridport Flash-Fiction prize so they must be doing something right). Months later, after many false starts, I found I had been placed in the top 10 in the National Flash-Fiction Day 2012 100 Word competition. It was the first writing competition I had ever entered. The NFFD experience showed how vibrant the Flash Fiction scene is and soon I found plenty of websites and blogs that were dedicated to – or at least very interested in – the form. The 1000Words site in particular caught my eye as it used photographs as prompts rather than calling out for general submissions. This was an interesting starting point as the photos opened up the scope of what was possible rather than narrowing it by using a theme or a title as a prompt for entry.

Congratulations on the publication, earlier this year, of your flash-fiction collection, The Book of Small Changes. I enjoyed it very much and was delighted to discover that two of the stories had been originally published at 1000words. Can you give us an insight into how you get from an image prompt to a final flash-fiction?

Thank you. I can’t tell you how marvellous it was to have an entire collection published by Gumbo. (Cheers to Calum Kerr!)

The collection came less from image prompts than it did from the text of the I Ching (an ancient Chinese divinatory method that’s like a cross between rune throwing and astrology that reads like badly translated stereo instructions such as “Please to be pressing the clock of setting three time for the start” and so on). However, I had written some of the flashes previously and simply found they were a good fit. Maybe it’s cheating, maybe it’s not, but it worked and I didn’t waste any words.

For the two flashes that appeared in both 1000Words and The Book Of Small Changes; the picture prompts were simple ones – an old man feeding the pigeons and a red flower in the snow.

The old man made me think of a veteran, and the pigeons, therefore, became carrier pigeons relaying messages to the front. My great-grandfather Tom was gassed in the trenches in the First World War and lived with the after effects of mustard gas for the rest of his life, so I began to think about him and about chemical warfare and how a pigeon could be used to bring a subtle and infectious end to the enemy’s generals. Once I had filled the carrier pigeon’s canister with fleas (so to speak) the rest of the story came easily.
The story that sprang from the flower in the snow was quite different, and I’m less sure of its origin and the reasons for my choices. I saw a splash of blood against the white, but no footprints around it, the beginning of a good murder mystery, and then a man fleeing. The man was running before the battle to get help, he hasn’t seen the blood (because it hasn’t happened yet) and he wants to avoid any being shed. Who would a man flee to that he would value above his own men? That was the question that led me across the valley through a snow storm and up the mountain to the witches and their wise mercies.
In general I use a lot of free-association, a lot of asking myself “What If?” and “Why?”. An image is only, after all, a collection of objects in a setting. I remove the setting and concentrate on each of the objects in turn and think about their uses, their context, other places they might appear, colour, texture, sound etc. and usually I will see a connection two or three steps down the line that might make something interesting once I get started.
Or, sometimes, it just happens, and there is no why.

Other than images, what inspires your writing?

Other people’s writing. It is so important to be a good reader – and by that I mean a reader that explores many genres and many authors. A good writer has a little of the magpie about them (so says Phillip Pullman), a phrase here, a descriptive turn there, to twist and redraft and make your own. I read everything – non-fiction works on consciousness, decades old manuals for foreign diplomats, dictionaries of pickpocket slang (the excellent and quite hilarious “The Vulgar Tongue”) to any novel or short story collection I can get my hands on. You never know where a good prompt will come from. Try and get outside your comfort zone into genres you wouldn’t normally read (some examples in my case were Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, Mary Robison’s “Why Did I Ever” and Andrew Kaufman’s “The Tiny Wife”). These have been my biggest surprises and best inspirations.

Which writers (or other creatives) have inspired you?

Now, that is a long list.

For writers I’ll start with M R James and H P Lovecraft, Conan-Doyle and Dickens. Then go via Italo Calvino, Hunter S. Thompson, Alice Munro and Elizabeth Taylor, Roald Dahl, T H White, Douglas Adams, Richard Matheson and Philip K Dick – all the way to William Gibson, Murakami, Roberto Bolano, Yoko Ogawa and Neil Gaiman. Every single one of them gave me three things: a love of language, a indefatigable desire to be a writer and and ear for a great story.

Also, I like to listen to music when I write, usually something to match the mood of the piece and instrumental for preference. Movie soundtracks, Tangerine Dream, a bit of classical, a bit of electronica and repeats of Radio 3s “Late Junction” on iPlayer.

Lastly, to give art a mention, Edward Hopper’s 1942 “Nighthawks” – I am convinced that you could write an entire novel about the single moment in that painting. Pablo Picasso’s 1905 “Girl In a Chemise” – for exactly the same reason. Lastly Mark Rothko’s 1958 “The Seagram Murals” because they scare me if I think about them for too long.

What is it that you like about reading and/or writing flash-fiction?

I’m amazed at how much can be done with so little. Flash gets straight to the point and tells the pure story. Less is indeed more. That last sentence was intentional.

What tips would you give to aspiring flash-fiction writers?

Read. You never know where a good prompt will come from. Try and get into books you wouldn’t normally read. Expose yourself to as many writing styles as possible and see how the writer has taken the language and made it entirely their own and learn what ever you can from them. Even if you only learn one thing from reading a story or a novel it will have been worth the effort.

Write. I find good flash comes from Writing Long and then Editing Short. Adding words, I find, is always harder than removing them.

Listen. Get feedback from people who also write and be open to that feedback. Join a writing circle, take part in forums, go to festivals and open mic nights and any readings you can. Take part. The best feedback comes from getting involved. Take all good advice into account. And my wife has just reminded me that “you all can’t please all the people all the time” as you will end up writing by committee and losing your own voice.

Don’t explain. If your work needs an explanation as to why the reader has misunderstood it – rewrite it until no further explanation is required. (I know some work is ambiguous, but this must be a choice rather than a bi-product of poor writing).

Re-write. Resubmit. Get new feedback. Decide when enough is enough and any further tinkering will detract from the writing rather than improve it.

Keep a notebook. Carry it everywhere. Never leave writing an idea down until later, it will be too late. I learned this the hard way.

Read your work out loud. This will help you get a sense of the rhythm of the words, the lengths of lines, the breaks, the dialogue. Reading aloud also helps catch mistakes that you might have missed on the page.

Enter competitions. There are plenty to choose from. Read the entry criteria carefully and read previous entries / winners to get a sense of what the judges are after. Try not to bite your nails too much while waiting for the results.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Remember to thank your wife.

Thanks again for agreeing to be interviewed. Before we let you go though, is there anything else you’d like us to know, any new writing projects you’re working on?

20819470I have finished a collection of thirteen longer short stories called “On Cleanliness and Other Things”, one of which “Watching” has just won runner-up in the Synaesthesia 2014 Short Story Competition and two others are already published elsewhere. The collection has been submitted to several publishers and other stories from it are currently in competition.

I am also halfway through a rather large novel called “All The Secret Names” – that should be finished next year.

My collection “The Book Of Small Changes” is available here and you can follow me on Twitter here.

In A Flash: Rejection and True Failure by Shirley Golden

1000wordsToday, once again, I welcome Shirley Golden to my blog. Shirley’s story, Jacob Clears His Head, was one of the five winning flash-fictions in the recent #flashcomp we held at 1000words. As Shirley’s already submitted herself to a 1000words interview, I asked her if she’d like to write a guest post here instead. To my delight, she said yes and has kindly written the following. Thanks, Shirley! Over to you …

Rejection and True Failure

Anyone who’s ever submitted work to be considered for publication has to face rejections. And anyone who’s had to deal with rejections will know it isn’t easy. Of course, there are ways to soften the blows: sending out lots of submissions, and having a list of potential places ready to re-submit helps with focus and motivation; having an appreciation of the odds, if entering competitions, can help sustain self-confidence (even for a competition that receives around 200 entries, a short list of ten offers only a 5% chance of selection). More prestigious competitions attract thousands of entries and can bring the odds down to 1% or less. So, a rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your story isn’t any good.

I find it beneficial to look at my history of submissions for individual stories. For example, I’ve a couple that have been rejected 11-12 times but have also appeared on 3-4 long and/or short lists, and so I’ll keep tweaking and re-sending them because I know it’s about finding the right market, or landing in front of the right judge/editor at the right time. It’s also why long and short lists are so useful. Many stories I’ve had placed in competitions have been rejected several times, and one story was rejected five times before it went on to win a decent first prize. Perseverance really is an asset in this business. It’s true that rejected work often goes through extensive edits, but not always. I’ll stick to my guns if my inner voice tells me the story is working.

Of my submissions for this year (excluding those I’m waiting to hear about), 16 of 41 have achieved long or short listings and/or have been accepted for publication. This is a fairly typical hit rate for me in the last couple of years. However, it still means I have to deal with the fact that around 60% of work I send out fails. So, how do I feel about this? During the times when all goes quiet, I wonder why I keep submitting, and in a rather black period earlier this year, I missed a couple of the bigger competition deadlines – ones I’ve entered (without success) for the past few years. And perhaps that was a wise move; perhaps I saved myself a great deal of work and a few pounds in entry fees.

But actually, it feels like my first true failure, and it’s a salient reminder that it’s far more constructive to just keep on trying.

Shirley GoldenShirley can be found at her website as well as on twitter. Her winning story, Jacob Clears His Head, can be read at 1000words.

An Interview with Me at Ether Books

etherYou might remember that last month one of my stories – A Price Too High – won the Day 4 section of the 8 Days of Ether Contest. Part of my prize was to be interviewed by Ether about my writing, and the interview is now on their blog for all to read. If your interested in finding out how I found the contest, what I love about flash-fiction, what inspired my story and what I think about digital publishing, you can read my answers here. Enjoy!

1000words: An Interview with Jacqueline Pye

1000wordsToday, I welcome Jacqueline Pye to my blog. Jacqueline’s story, Honour Maid, was a winning flash-fiction in the recent #flashcomp we ran at 1000words. Writers were given one image and four days in which to write a 200-word story inspired by that image. We received 33 entries and picked our five favourites which we then published on the website. It always amazes me how one image can inspire so many different stories, so I’ve invited Jacqueline along today to tell us, amongst other things, a bit about how she came up with hers.

Hi, Jacqueline. Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. We’ve just published your winning story, Honour Maid. What prompted you to enter our #flashcomp?

Competitions which look interesting on twitter are checked out, and if I think I could work something suitable then the tweet goes into my Favourites list. I’ve been looking at 1000 words for a while, and when your flash fiction comp was announced, well that was a natural for me. And the tree image got the juices flowing.

Can you give us an insight into how you got from the #flashcomp image to your final flash-fiction?

Included in my book is a short story involving a tree used for an unusual purpose, and the notion has stuck in my mind ever since. The flashcomp image linked well, but I created a completely different set of circumstances which became darker as I thought them out – quite the norm now! Trimming to the word count took time, as I wanted a complete micro-story with scene-setting, a middle and an ending without giving the staccato impression which can sometimes result from having to reduce word count.

Other than images, what gives you ideas for stories?

As a former psychologist, I’m really interested in relationships and what can tip people over into anti-social or criminal acts. For example, why would someone poison their lover instead of just leaving, or murder their boss after missing out on promotion? Ideas also come from snatches of heard conversation; on a ferry I noticed a bossy chap telling his wife how to take a photo, when she clearly knew. A story emerged from that, and won a prize in a radio competition – though that was at a time when no-one could be all bad in stories, so the bossy man was OK in the end. I also use actions that annoy me; when our new neighbour immediately cut down a magnificent magnolia tree, he was pretty quickly demolished himself in a story for my next book.

JP2Which writers (or other creatives) have inspired you?

Aspects of many of the books I read seem to lodge in my mind and pop out when I’m writing, though as yet I haven’t tackled a novel. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna stays in the mind, especially for its circular story and satisfying ending, and ditto A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – hard to believe it’s 25 years old. Anthologies of selected short stories are a favourite, though different since if they’re current then they can help to illustrate the zeitgeist which these days I notice is different to, say, five years ago and is still evolving.

What do you like about reading and writing flash-fiction?

A short, satisfying story to be read in no more than five minutes is right up my street. My concentration span is about that of a goldfish, so both reading and writing in this genre (I think it’s a genre) is perfect. Writing flash is quick to start with, and while it takes a lot longer to edit, one can leave it and return at any time. And it’s true what they say – every word has to be useful and just right. But finishing the final edit gives the same feeling as taking a tray of perfect muffins from the oven.

What tips would you give to aspiring flash-fiction writers?

If it’s for pleasure, then I’d say write whatever interests, amuses and pleases you. If it’s for a competition or other submission, then do take note of length required, and read as much successful flash fiction as you can to get a feel for what’s being chosen. Then hone your idea into a first draft and edit ruthlessly for unnecessary phrases/words, change bland words into those more striking, and if there is more than one character, be sure to make them different and identifiable.

Bottles&Pots_CoverThanks again for agreeing to be interviewed. Before we let you go, is there anything else you’d like us to know?

A selection of my dark short stories and flash fiction pieces in my self-published book Bottles and Pots; some of these were listed, commended or placed in national or international competitions. I’m currently working on my next collection, which will include a story which recently won a competition in Writers News, the Magnolia piece and some flash fiction such as, hopefully, Honour Maid!

You can read Jacqueline’s winning story here, and connect with at her website and via twitter.

#WritingNews: An Interview with … Me!

1000wordsGood morning! I’ve two pieces of writing/publishing news to share with you today.

Firstly, the winner of the Paperswans Fourth Flash-Fiction Competition wasn’t me. It was SueAnn Porter with Trip to the Pier. Congratulations, SueAnn! If you’re interested in knowing which of the entries was mine, it was The Air Is Still, and I’ll be posting it here tomorrow as this week’s #fridayflash.

Secondly, I’m being interviewed today over on F. C. Malby’s blog about my role as editor and publisher of 1000words. F. C. Malby is the author of Take Me to the Castle, which was published in December 2012 and won The People’s Book Awards in 2013. She also writes short stories, and earlier this month I published her beautiful flash-fiction, North Norfolk Coast, at 1000words. If you’d like to find out what she asked me and how I answered, step this way …

1000words: An Interview with Karl A Russell

1000wordsToday, I’m very pleased to welcome flash-fictioneer Karl A Russell to my blog. At 1000words, we have published two of his tales: the humorous Stormin’ Norma (a 1000words National Flash-Fiction Day 2013 winner) and the haunting (and very recent) Such Sights To See.

Hi, Karl. Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. What prompted you to submit your flash-fictions to 1000words?

I love writing contests, prompts, anything which gets the ideas flowing, and I’ve been so impressed with the stories I’ve seen on here, I thought it was high time I had another crack at it.

We’ve published two of your stories at 1000words. Can you give us an insight into how you get from your chosen image to a final flash-fiction?

I just scrolled through the boards, looking at all the photos, till I found the one which “spoke” to me. Sometimes, photo prompts can be completely incidental to my stories, but for Such Sights To See, it was a very clear inspiration. I saw the photo, wondered where she was and why it was blurred, and that just made the whole thing pop in my head; OK, so she’s got bad eyes because… and she’s in the city because… and he took her there because…

Other than images, what inspires your stories?

Music. I can (and do) write anywhere, but I can’t write in silence. Wherever I am, I’ve got a couple of pads, a couple of pens and my mp3 player. It can be very obvious – I rewrote the lyrics to I Say A Little Prayer as a zombie love story, and just used Talking Heads for a fake reality tale – but other times it can be more of a tonal inspiration; Can I take the feel of listening to this and turn it into fiction?

Which writers (or other creatives) have inspired you?

Of the big names, Stephen King for his apparently careless ease with words, and Philip K. Dick for his endless stream of ideas. Much closer to home though, I have a fantastic group of supportive and inspirational friends – Jacki Donellan, David Shakes, Bart Van Goethem, Beth Deitchman and many more – who turn out every week at The Angry Hourglass and show me how many different ways there are to interpret a single prompt and how many different kinds of stories one writer can tell. I occasionally judge there too, and I’ve learned so much reading their work out of competition.

What do you like about reading and writing flash-fiction?

Going back to music, it’s like the difference between a triple gatefold concept album and a minute-thirty punk single. There’s no time for digression and superfluous noodling, you just have to jump straight in and grab the reader by the throat. There’s nothing wrong with Dark Side of the Moon of course, but I could listen to Teenage Kicks all day and night, and reading flash is the same. As a writer, it’s also incredibly challenging as all I have is this moment, a tight deadline and a limited word count to tell you everything about the world; “I’ve got three words left to express how much he loved his late mother, and the contest closes in an hour…”

What tips would you give to aspiring flash-fiction writers?

Write, and don’t be afraid to show people what you can do. Whether you think it works or not, whether you express what you wanted or not, it doesn’t matter; Someone will appreciate it, and this time next week, there’ll be a whole new prompt, a whole new set of stories, and you get to try all over again. But don’t be afraid to try. And maybe get yourself over to Flash!Friday or The Angry Hourglass too and meet some of the nicest people around (and me…).

Thanks again for agreeing to be interviewed. But before we let you go, is there anything else you’d like us to know?

Taking a leaf out of Jacki’s book, I should say that I’m writing a novel, just so that I can’t let it slide again. I’m also thinking about trying my hand at another screenplay and a comic script or two as people keep referring to the visual element of my stories.

Karl A Russell 3Most of all though, I should tell you that I’m selling a collection of my stories through Just Giving, raising funds for a local hospice, The Halton Haven. They do great work and will appreciate every penny they get, so if you want to read more of my stories, head on over to the link and drop a couple of quid for a very worthy cause.

You can read Karl’s stories here and here. You can also find him tweeting here.

1000words: An Interview with Cathy Lennon

1000wordsToday, I’m welcoming Cathy Lennon to my blog. Cathy is a writer of fabulous fiction and was recently announced the winner of this year’s National Flash-Fiction Day Micro-Fiction Competition. At 1000words, we have published not one, not two, but three of her stories: A Useful Facility in the North, Segments and A Time for Giving. Don’t rush off to read them just yet, though. Stay a while and find out what Cathy has to say about writing flash-fiction and her 1000words experience.

Thanks, Cathy, for agreeing to be interviewed. What prompted you to submit your flash-fictions to 1000words?

I discovered 1000 words not long after I joined twitter. I enjoyed reading other people’s work and then one day there was an invitation to submit to a contest. There was an image of a wall covered in graffiti, somewhere hot and deserted. I immediately saw my character Faisal, pining for the familiarity of his old school yard and wrote ‘Segments’ quite quickly. I was really thrilled when it was published!

We’ve published several of your stories at 1000words. Can you tell us how you get from your chosen images to your final flash-fictions?

Segments
Image by nickolouse. Some Rights Reserved.

I still find it hard to pin the creative process down. I almost prefer not to think about it. Some of my most appreciated work has been written quickly. Other pieces I’ve laboured over and got nowhere with. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I do love it, though, when you get totally absorbed in painting a tiny portrait on a grain of rice, which is what flash is to me.

Other than images, what things inspire your stories?

I’m an information junkie. I love odd facts and random trivia. If I come across something that makes me think ‘how interesting!’ I’ll write it down in one of my journals. If I’m looking for inspiration, a quick flick through will often provide me with a jumping off point. Other times it’ll be an overheard remark or a desire to capture a particular scene or feeling.

Which writers (or other creatives) have inspired you?

Twitter has been an eye-opener. I’ve discovered people whose work I really like and whose attitude to the writing process has really encouraged me. I’d include in that lots of flash fiction writers – Calum Kerr, Tania Hershman, Nik Perring and many others. The support and friendship from other writers has been brilliant. I really like the work and writing ethic of Angela Readman. I’ll be looking out for her short story collection this year.

What is it you like about reading and writing flash-fiction?

It’s quite ‘freeing’. It distils and lingers, a bit like poetry, and it can be a great outlet for the surreal and off kilter. It stands in its own right as something worthwhile to read or write and it can also be an icebreaker, pushing the blocks of writing brain-freeze out of the way!

What tips would you give to aspiring flash-fiction writers?

Hmm. Giving tips. A friend once said ‘it seems to me that far too many people have too much to say for themselves.’ I thought that was quite wise. We all just struggle along in our own way doing our own thing. I think you can get quite paralyzed sometimes, with all the writing tips out there!

Thanks again for agreeing to be interviewed. Before you go, though, is there anything else you’d like us to know?

Cathy LennonAt the moment I plan to keep on doing what I’m doing. My main focus is on learning and improving – and enjoying. I spent a lot of time trying to force myself to write certain things in certain ways and the end result was that I wasn’t happy. I reckon I’m in for a long haul, but that’s absolutely fine.

You can read Cathy’s stories here, here and here. You can also find her tweeting on Twitter as @clenpen.

1000words: An Interview with Shirley Golden

1000wordsToday, I welcome Shirley Golden to my blog. Shirley is one of 1000words’ favourite writers. We love her stories so much, that, in the past two years, we have published four of them. You don’t have to take our word on how good they are though; you can read them for yourself at the website. They are: Reproduction, Reproaching Shadows, Bigger Than This and Too Little, Too Late.

BUT … before you rush off to partake of Shirley’s flashy delights, please stay here for a few minutes and find out what she has to say about writing flash-fiction and her 1000words experience.

So, Shirley, what prompted you to submit your flash-fictions to 1000words?

I was drawn to your website because of the photo prompts.  I read some of the stories and was impressed by the standard.  I wasn’t sure if mine were good enough but thought I’d give it a go.

We’ve published four of your stories at 1000words. Can you tell us how you get from your chosen images to your final flash-fictions?

Reproaching Shadows
Image by superbomba (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The photo that inspired me the most was the girl and the shadow.  As soon as I saw it, I loved the idea of a wayward shadow and wanted to use it to represent something lacking in her life.  As I wrote, her mother’s critical voice emerged, and I managed to shape it into a complete story that I thought was worth submitting.  I love it when an image triggers an idea, especially one I feel wouldn’t have come to me without the prompt.  I least enjoy the feeling I sometimes get when I go back to a piece, knowing it needs work, but am unable to draw it together in a satisfactory way.

Other than images, what prompts your stories?

I suffer from insomnia, and find the early hours can be a very creative time.  I think it’s because thoughts are free to float around without distractions.

Which writers (or other creatives) have inspired you?

Bigger than This
Image by Camil Tulcan. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Early on, when I first attempted to write short stories, I discovered Raymond Carver, and was blown away by his his work. It helped me to fully appreciate how ‘less is more’ for short fiction (and perhaps for all writing).

What is it you like about reading and writing flash-fiction?

I love the ‘hit’ that reading flash-fiction gives me, and I like to ponder connections to the wider story that the author has left out.  I enjoy stories that are accessible and entertaining in themselves but contain subtext if you want to delve deeper.  For me, Calum Kerr has mastered the art of this, and I love how he switches genres effortlessly.  When writing flash-fiction, I like that the editing can be managed all at once.

What tips would you give to aspiring flash-fiction writers?

I find it useful to imagine I’m looking through a window and spying on a scene from someone’s life. No matter how much background knowledge I’ve built, I try to use the things sensed in that moment to reflect the story, rather than spell out everything.

Shirley GoldenThanks for answering our questions, Shirley. Before you go, is there anything else you’d like us to know?

Well, I’ve been mostly dealing with rejections and working on revisions!  I’m also re-working my latest novel after receiving feedback from a publisher; so, lots to keep me busy.

You can read Shirley’s stories here, here, here and here, and you can find out more about her writing at her website as well as connecting with her via twitter.