- Can you tell us the story behind your winning piece – was it prompted by a word, a memory, a scene, a wish to write in a new way?
‘Roll and Curl’ was started on one of those days when I was not in the mood to write and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to do with the blank screen in front of me. However, when I schedule in writing time for myself, I try my best to make use of it, so I persisted.
I cast about, trying to come up with a starting point, and ended up thinking about how my grandmother and her friends used to have their hair styled once a week, and that made me think about what actually went into those particular styles, and also about the hairstylists who looked after them. After a few misturns and diversions, ‘Roll and Curl’ began to materialise, and by the end of the day, it was very nearly there. I fiddled with it for a while after that, then took it to my critique group, polished it up, and sent it off.
I’ve just recently realised that many if not most of my very favourite pieces are a result of pushing through when I was struggling for ideas, motivation, energy, etc. Maybe that will make it a little easier to sit down and write the next time I feel reluctant….
- What do you particularly like about the very short form? Have you been writing in this genre for long?
I’ve been writing very short form prose and poetry since April 2014, when I decided to give writing a serious go. I had a very active baby who didn’t sleep, so had to make use of every little scrap of time I could find in my day. I wanted to work on a novel project, but wasn’t making much progress with writing time fragmented throughout the day as much as it was. Eventually, I decided to take a step back and just exercise my writing skills with short pieces. At first, I thought of these short pieces as warm-ups, or as writing exercises that would help prepare me for novel-writing, but they quickly turned into much more than that. It was satisfying to be able to finish a piece in a relatively short amount of time, and I liked the freedom to experiment with lots of different ideas, voices, styles, and so forth. I love the puzzle-like quality of constructing short prose, the way each sentence, each phrase, each word has to contribute to – and resonate with – the whole.
- Which short story writers have inspired you and what is it about their writing that appeals to you?
I didn’t know what hit me when I first read Jorge Luis Borges in my mid teens, and he continues to be a great influence, along with some of the other greats like Kafka, Calvino and Carver. As for more contemporary authors, I’m a big fan of Lydia Davis, Kathy Fish, Leesa Cross-Smith, and, of course, Tania Hershman. With all these authors, I admire their ability to condense big ideas into precise, sculpted prose. When I read them, I don’t feel like I’m reading at all, I feel like I’m being carried along on some sort of river that is as surprising as it is inevitable, if that makes sense.
- When and where do you do your writing?
The short answer is whenever and wherever I can! I schedule writing time into my week, and also try to make use of any little unexpected bits of time that crop up during the day. For the scheduled writing time, I often try to get out to the library or a café where there are fewer distractions. If I’m at home, I blackmail myself into staying put by lighting candles: I’m too worried about safety to leave them unattended, so I’m forced to actually write instead of doing the dishes, making tea, and whatnot.
- What are your current writing projects? Have you further writing ambitions?
I love writing shortform pieces and definitely plan to continue with these. I’ve had some good luck finding homes for pieces, and hopefully this will continue.
There are also a couple draft novels hovering over me, begging for attention; I’m planning to spend more time with them this year.
I suppose my main writing ambition is to carry on writing, and to carry on trying to improve. I feel like I have so much to learn!
- We’d love to know your best tips for writing flash fiction
I’m hardly an expert, but here are a few things that have worked for me.
I believe in prompts. When I can’t get started, I often look for some sort of prompt or constraint and work from there. Sometimes I’ll leave myself a prompt for the next writing session so that my subconscious will have something to mull over, and so it will be easier to jump in if I find a have some unexpected free minutes in the day.
If I can’t get a grip on a story, I sit down and write around the problem area until something starts clicking. I’ve found that working on a story in my head usually doesn’t work; I have to sit down and plough through text in order to move forward. It’s an inefficient process – I end up cutting spectacular amounts of text – but then, sometimes the tangents end up being the seeds for new pieces.
Once I finish a story, I start cutting. I often cut the start, the end, or both. I don’t think I’ve ever had a first draft that hasn’t been significantly improved by cutting things out.
And finally, I think a good critique group is invaluable. I was very lucky to find an exceptional group, and meeting regularly with them to give and received feedback has improved the quality of my writing. I cannot thank them enough for their help and support.