A heart found in the laundry, a senile parent digging with a knife and spoon in the garden for her lost husband and the telepathy of knees were some of the subjects covered in tonight’s Flash Fiction readings in Bristol. (*all of the writers who read are listed below)
Award winning writers, published novelists, creative writing lecturers, competition judges, poets and professional editors gathered in The Lansdown in Clifton, Bristol, to read and celebrate the second National Flash Fiction day. Upstairs at the Bristol event there can’t have been more than 30 people in the room, but there was serious form and talent.
Bristol’s Flash events managed the coup of attracting writer and lecturer, Calum Kerr to visit, who founded the day last year. Events took place all over the UK and online flash fiction stories were published at ten minute intervals. The anthology ‘Scraps’ published flash fiction stories too.
So what is Flash Fiction? According to Tania Hershman
, author of ‘My mother was an upright piano’, and Calum, whose book, ‘Lost Property’ was launched today, there are as many definitions as flash fiction writers. But the writing is short, under 1,000 words. It also has it’s own quirky terminology and categories – a drabble being 100 words and a dribble being 50 words. Lucky, then, that Margaret Drabble doesn’t dabble.
Tania and Calum led a free workshop this afternoon in Bristol’s central library which kicked off with an exercise called word cricket where we had to write for twelve minutes. We were given this sentence, ‘It happened precisely at 8:07’ and told to write for 12 minutes with the promise of a word prompts every minute. It was so reassuring – there was no need to make sense – although it seemed everybody’s story did when it was time to read them out. Quickly the room fell silent, with only the sounds of pens pressing down hard on paper. Every minute Tania would call out a word – prompts included the words – purple, impossible, balloon, chicken, sparkling and teapot.
In my writing this threw up lines such as
‘purple were the tips of his fingers starting to decay beyond the moon-like fingernails,’ or ‘she hammered on the impossible door’, ‘ iron sparkling against the road’, or ‘chicken stepping’ and, ‘the teapot fell behind her in an Alice in Wonderland moment’. The randomness of the words invigorated my story of being locked in a room with a dead body with no way out. (I know – pure melodrama!).
One thing that Callum said resonated with me: ‘A story should have truth in it, even if it’s a lie; it should be a true lie.’ Normally I try and avoid ‘shoulds’ in my life as they are packed with guilt, control and perhaps pain. But it is something I strive for in my writing and whilst editing my novel. I feel an obligation to my characters, I don’t want to sell them short, and without sounding pompous I want my writing to resonate with my readers.
I’m drawn to flash fiction as it’s quick, though as I know from my job writing press releases, short pieces are harder and require more skill to write than longer ones. Within the workshop we did a very interesting exercise where we had to edit a piece of deliberately woolly writing supplied by Calum and make it as short as possible. Stripping back the story to its ‘essentials’ is an individual choice though, with no right or wrong way to proceed, which is a useful reminder for any writing group critiquing work. Editing someone else’s work is easier than editing your own work as you can be more objective and are not precious or egoistic about the words. But as I edit this piece of blog writing I find it easier to strike things out following today’s exercise.
What’s clear was the huge amount of talent at tonight’s Flash Fiction event with readings from *Anna Britten, Ken Elkes, Kevlin Henney, Tania Hershman, Sarah Hilary, Dan Holloway, Calum Kerr, Pauline Masurel, Paul McVeigh, Nick Parker, Jonathan Pinnock, Clare Reddaway and Deborah Rickard.
In Bristol we are lucky to have a thriving spoken word scene such as Word of Mouth at The Thunderbolt, Acoustic Night at Halo Cafe, Bristol Old Vic’s Blahblahblah
and Bristol’s Festival of Literature at Unputdownable
in the autumn, as well as Poetry Festivals organised by the excellent Poetry Can,
We’re also lucky to have volunteers such as Kevlin Henney prepared to organise these events. As I sat listening to these stories I was itching to write more, and be part of the crowd on stage sharing my work.
I’ll leave a last thought from Calum Kerr, founder of National Flash Fiction Day, who quoted this wonderful line from Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary in the workshop:
“Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.