Posts Tagged ‘national flash fiction day’

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.

Calum Kerr Author Phoro

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!

The Rocketeer

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.

Tony Soprano

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!]

Cat Happy Dance

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.

Zombie Chainsaw sign

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.

Video Nasties
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.”

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Did I mention I was one of the editors for FlashFloodJournal – the flash-fiction twenty-four-hour blog project headed by the brilliant Calum Kerr, director of National Flash Fiction Day? Because I was. It was amazing to be part of such a great initiative. If you’re one of the many hundreds of writers who submitted a piece to us, thank you.

Quite a few contributors asked us for feedback on why their pieces hadn’t been accepted. Unfortunately, being frantically busy, we simply couldn’t provide any at the time. Instead, we thought we’d use our blogs to share some thoughts and ideas on how to improve your chances of success next time. Just in case, for example, we decide we’re going to do it all again one day or something. You never know.

Before we start, a few housekeeping points. These are my thoughts; not the FFJ Hivemind’s thoughts, not the thoughts of anyone official, just mine. Because these are my thoughts, it’s more than possible I don’t know what I’m talking about. I was twenty-four years old before I realised that when you look at a flat map of the world, you don’t need to traverse the globe to get from left to right because it all joins on round the back, so to speak. So feel free to ignore every word I say.

Well, I am King
The way it worked was, each editor took charge for one day. For that day, we were the only ones steering the ship. So the first thing to remember is, it was down to the personal opinion of the editor. We’re all different people with different tastes, so what might have one of us leaping off the sofa going “OMGthisisbrilliant!” may leave the next one cold.

Good writing is good writing, and we hope we didn’t miss too many gems. However, there’s always going to be a decent element of a particular piece just being to a particular editor’s particular taste. But then, that’s how our entire industry works, so, yeah.

And At The End They All Must Die
Please note, this is not me saying, “Don’t write sad stories”. Sad stories, written well, are a thing of beauty. A quick look at our blog will show you we were thrilled to accept a large and indulgent helping of very sad stories indeed.

It’s just that this year, for this contest, rather a lot of people decided to write them. Since one thing we were really keen to achieve was variety, I declined some very well-written pieces about loss, death, loneliness, widowhood, divorce etc – just because they were too similar to a piece we’d already got scheduled.

Again, I’m absolutely not saying “Don’t write sad stories”. I’m just observing that this time, all the sad stories had a hell of a lot of competition. Also, if you’re reading a lot of sad stories one after another, you start to get cynical and desensitised. This is probably why medical students like to throw body-parts of each other when they’re off-duty.

But He Was Upside Down With His Skin Missing When I Got Here, Officer
For some reason, quite a lot of authors who submitted on my shift wrote stories about carving up bad people. Again, there’s nothing objectively wrong with this. In fact, frankly, some of you were bloody brilliant at it and will probably take over whenever Elmore Leonard leaves off. Maybe next time there won’t be any schlock at all and I’ll be wishing I’d kept schtum…

Anyway, if you were one of the excellent writers whose gangland executions I had to turn down, I’m sorry. It’s just there’s a limit to how many dead bodies we could accommodate.

The Fish-Slapping Dance
Just in case you don’t know what the fish-slapping-dance is, here’s a link to the YouTube clip. Now that we’re all on the same page, let me explain. In flash fiction, a Fish Slap is when your entire story is just a pleasant interlude leading up to a monumental WTF surprise at the ending. It’s sudden, it comes out of nowhere, and it hits me right around the face and knocks me into the water.

The point I’m making is this. Like the Monty Python sketch I just linked to, the Fish Slap move is not new. In fact, Fish Slaps are probably one of the most common tropes of the flash fiction genre. I don’t like saying they’ve been done to death and I may never want to see another one, but occasionally we all have to do things we don’t like. If you’re genuinely convinced to your very bones that you’ve got a brand new Fish Slap that’s never been done before and everyone will love it, then by all means go for it. Just bear in mind that your editor may well have been Fish Slapped quite enough for one day.

Eats, Shoots And Leaves
When I was at school our English teachers used to trap us inside gigantic tarantula-filled bell-jars when we made minor errors of spelling and punctuation. What can I tell you? It’s grim up North. As a result, I have near-crippling phobias of both spiders, and people who can’t spell or punctuate. You are now free to go through my entire canon of work with a fine-tooth comb and point out the many, many times I have undoubtedly screwed up on this. Then I will have to go and lock myself in the bell-jar and make nice with the hairy-legged arachnids.

Seriously, though. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes – but please, please do your best to catch as many of them as you can. Five hundred words is not a lot to proof-read. If I spot more than a couple of errors, they rapidly become the defining feature of your work for me. Sorry about that.

Fifty Shades Of Copyright
Occasionally, some of us like to dabble with fan-fiction. That’s absolutely shiny with me, but we can’t publish work which recognisably features other people’s creative properties. Since we don’t know everything that exists in the world, if your fandom is obscure we may well not recognise character names, locations and so on. However, the people who originally came up with them certainly will.

Gimme gimme gimme
Here are some of the things I’d love to see even more of if we get to do it again:

1. Stories that made me feel something (other than a bit miserable)
Stories that came with their own massive jolt of strong emotion almost always made my final pick. There was one that I actually felt like I needed a shower after reading. It’s still one of my favourites out of the whole blog.

2. Stories that made me laugh
…especially when the humour was dark and / or unexpected. In fact, I may even break my Fish Slap embargo for a truly funny black-comedy end-line.

3. Stories that were idiosyncratic, unexpected or just engagingly nuts
I wasn’t on duty when the Zombie Stripper piece came in, but if I had been, I’d have snapped your hand off, too.

4. Stories that were just…different
During my stint, I often walked away from stories that were well-crafted, well-written and thoughtful, because they just didn’t break any new territory. I did this to make room for other stories – stories that were a bit raw and rough around the edges (and might even have had the odd spelling mistake) but were utterly fresh and distinctive.

And finally…
In case I haven’t made it clear enough – it was an absolute privilege being a FlashFloodJournal editor for a day. I think we were all pretty bowled over by the superb standard of the work we received (not to say a little bit intimidated when it came time to submit our own stories to the editorial team). Apparently I don’t use this blog enough to promote my own work, so here’s a link to mine.

If you submitted, then thank you – thank you – thank you. You were all amazing. And we all need to say thank you to Calum Kerr, for organising FlashFloodJournal – and indeed, for directing the whole Flash Fiction Day. I can’t wait for the next one.

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Just found out I’m the runner-up in The Journal’s National Flash Fiction Day Competition with my piece “Doorstep”, hoorah!

Apparently “Doorstep” will be going on their website at some point, so as soon as it does I’ll post a link.

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Happy National Flash Fiction Day everyone!

We’ve had a fantastic week reviewing entries from talented Flash Fiction authors from all over the world. The FlashFlood blog has been live since midnight, and will be publishing six new flash-fictions an hour until midnight tonight. My piece, “Lucky”, will be going live at around 3pm.

It’s been the most amazing fun to be part of such a great initiative. Why not come over and have a look at the results?

ETA: And here’s the link to “Lucky”, which went up as part of the 3:00pm collection.

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Tonight I’m doing a shout-out for submissions! We’re looking for talented flash-fiction writers to submit their work to the fantastic blog project FlashFlood, which will be posting a fabulous new flash fiction every few minutes throughout National Flash Fiction Day.

The rules are dead simple:

1. Write a Flash Fiction of 500 words or less.
2. Post it into the body of an email (no attachments, please) to the editorial team. You can reach us at flashfloodjournal@gmail.com. You have until MIDNIGHT ON 15th MAY 2012.
3. The editorial team will review it and get back to you in an eerily rapid fashion (we can’t absolutely promise, but we’re aiming to reply within 24 hours of you pressing “send”).
4. If we like it, we’ll post it up to our blog during the course of 16th May, National Flash Fiction Day.

And that’s it! So what are you waiting for? Come on, you know you want to.

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