By day, Calum Kerr is a mild-mannered University Lecturer and editor at Gumbo Press. By night (and possibly in his lunch-break) he is Mr Flash365, the Director of the acclaimed National Flash Fiction Day and one of the UK’s most important and influential Flash Fiction writers. To celebrate the publication of his flash anthology, Lost Property from Cinder House Publishing, he’s very kindly dropped by my blog to answer ten questions on various important subjects.
1.Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first…how would you describe Flash Fiction? How did you discover it? And how did you discover it was the genre for you?
For me, the ‘flash’ in flash fiction is about the suddenness and speed of writing. I try not to plan, but to work from prompts, and to write in a single sitting. They naturally emerge around the 300-500 mark because of what they are, though, which is tales which tell as little of the story as possible for the reader to still decipher the rest.
I first came across them at a workshop hosted by Vanessa Gebbie, another renowned flash writer, something which I wrote about extensively on her blog. It took about a year after that before I started writing them regularly, however, and then I started my projects – 31 and then flash365 – and the rest is history.
I think I took to them because I had spent the previous couple of years writing a novel, and wasn’t yet ready to embark on another long-form project, so getting a chance to write lots of little things was just what I needed. Also, I was still finding my feet as a writer post-PhD and a chance to try lots of different genres and styles was perfect for me.
2. If you write poetry, you’re a poet, and if you write novels you’re a novelist. So what are we when we write flash fiction?
Well, some people go with ‘flasher’ but I prefer the more 1950s-radio-adventure-serial type term, Flash Fictioneer!
3. Ooh, I like that very much. Do you think the lack of a properly accepted noun is the reason we get asked, “So, when are you going to write a proper book, then?” And when you’re King, what punishment will be put in place for impertinent subjects who still dare to ask this question?
I think it’s that people don’t really know what flash-fiction is yet. National Flash-Fiction Day has helped to spread the word a bit, but sometimes it’s just easier to say ‘short short-stories’.
Punishment? I will force them to watch the last 10 minutes of long running TV series such as The Sopranos or The Wire and force them to extrapolate all the previous seasons from that.
4. Harsh but fair, I’d say. So, can you still remember what the very first flash-fiction you wrote was, and did it ever see the light of day?
This question got me thinking. The first one that I consciously wrote as a flash-fiction was in the above-mentioned workshop, and it was called ‘Salt’. It was published first in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine (issue 4.1, along with Ian Rankin!) and has also been included in Lost Property.
However, your question prompted me to remember the first stories I ever submitted to a magazine. This was back in the 80s when I was in my teens and the magazine was called FEAR. It ran reviews and articles about horror movies and books, but also printed horror fiction submitted to them. I sent them two stories, each about 50 words long. They didn’t publish either of them. I have forgotten one of them, but can still remember the other. I might recreate it, one day. Maybe for you, if you ask nicely…
[I asked very nicely, and Calum has kindly agreed to let me publish it below, yay!]
5. Flash365. I am so in awe of the scope of this project that I can’t even formulate a proper question. Can you cover for me by acting as if I had a really good question which you are now answering?
This was a stupid idea which turned out to be a really good one. I discovered that the way to write a story a day is just to write a story a day. Every single day I decided to give up, then wrote another story, then waited to give up the next day. A year passes quickly in that kind of state of anxiety.
But what I also realized that in trying to keep it fresh, and enjoyable – not just for me but for readers too – I needed to keep changing. So I tried my hand at pretty much every type of story, of character, of plot, of style, of perspective etc. and discovered a lot about my own writing.
It also turned out to be a really good promotional tool – securing me my Radio 4 interviews and broadcast, plus an approach from Salt to print my pamphlet, Braking Distance. It was a really good way to make my name, and gave me the reputation I needed to be able to make myself director of National Flash-Fiction Day.
6. How did you choose the flashes that appear in Lost Property? And (the magic question everyone always wants the answer to) how did it come to be published?
Well, it is a collection of 4 pamphlets, and each of those was compiled separately, then we looked at the ordering in the books. I selected 4 of my favourite stories which I felt each had a different tone (‘Citadel’, ‘Singalong’, ‘Lost Property’ and ‘Soaring’) and then selected stories which could build around each – sometimes in a complimentary way, sometimes antagonistic. The pamphlet called Lost Property was changed to Burning when we decided to use the title for the whole collection instead. And the ordering of them in the book was to do with which would be the opening story, which the closing one, and where in the collection the title story would come. The four pamphlets are all available individually as e-books on Kindle.
As for how I got it published, well, this is flash365 and NFFD doing their work. I decided I wanted to put together some pamphlets and maybe a collection from the work I’d done. I approached Dead Ink about it and they were immediately keen, suggesting 4 e-pamphlets and a full print collection. They were already aware of me and my writing from all the work I had posted online and done for NFFD, so it was really quite easy. It did require a huge amount of work beforehand, and the work had to be good, but then it was quite straightforward.
7. Do you have a Zombie plan? Please describe its basic elements, paying particular attention to your weapon of choice and where you plan to hide out while the Zombiepocalypse rages on.
This is already in place. We live in a bungalow in a cul-de-sac near the top of a hill, so it’s already quite defensible and we’ll probably stay here. In addition, my natural laziness combined with being very busy has led to a garden which has been allowed to run rampant with grass, weeds and brambles – many natural zombie snares.
I have recently bought a new heavy-duty strimmer for the doing of the garden, but am realising that it may be insufficient both for the garden and for zombies, so I’ve been eyeing up a chainsaw.
8. E-books or real books or both? Why? Why not? What will the future look like?
Both, definitely. I still love real books, you can’t beat the feel of them, not the ability to move around within the text by simply turning pages. Plus, there’s the lovely look of them on the shelf, piled on the table, toppling from the sideboard, lying on the floor.
But, when you have to travel, or in my case if you have to teach many large Victorian novels, then having a single e-reader with all of the books you want on it is far too useful.
I don’t think that real books will die out, there are just too many drawbacks to the e-book – access to wi-fi or paying for 3G to download them, needing to keep them charged, not being able to feel how much you have read, not being able to easily skip back six chapters to remind yourself of something – and also, in the end, the things themselves are just too beautiful to lose.
9. What else are you working on at the moment?
Well, I’m doing a blog tour, had you heard?
I’m also stalled near the end of a novel. I’ve done about 80,000 words and have another 15-20k to do in the first draft. I’m rather terrified of messing up the end, and I’ve been busy trying to earn money to pay the mortgage, so that’s been on hold. I need to get back to it, though.
I’m also thinking about the possibility of another collection, and I have two previous novels which need editing and sending out.
So, you know, about normal.
10. What question do you wish I’d asked you, and how would you answer it?
Well, you haven’t asked about the super-villain-style cat I’m stroking while you ask me these questions. She’s a half-Persian blue, and she’s called Rosa. She thinks you’re impertinent.
“Lost Property” is available direct from the Cinder House store, or via Amazon. For more from Calum, why not drop by his website? If you don’t yet have a Zombie plan, you need to get started, because once the Zombiepocalypse comes it will be every small group of survivors for themselves.
And if you’d like to read Calum’s very first Flash Fiction (written when he was fifteen), he’s very kindly agreed to let me publish it below.
by Calum Kerr
Bodies were strewn across the floor of the cabin, limbs severed and blood spattering the walls. The words ‘The End’ appeared on the screen and the credits started to roll.
Dave glanced along the sofa to Tom. “They reckon that films like this are going to make us violent, turn us into savage killers. They want to ban them all. I think it’s a load of bollocks, don’t you?”
Tom leaned across and pushed the knife deep into his friend’s side, twisting it as Dave gasped in pain.
“Utter bollocks, mate,” he said. “Yeah.”