- Your wonderful story ‘The Cool Box‘ won second prize in Bath Flash Fiction Award, June 2017 round judged by Meg Pokrass. Can you tell us how it came into being?
I’m an obsessive hoarder, so keep old e-mail chains. At 7:30 am. on June 10th, I sent the first draft to my critique partner, Auckland author Eileen Merriman. The story had come to me in a dream. I sent it with the following comment: ‘I have attached the flash, though I’m not sure if it’s a bit like most of my paintings, fun to do, but of no use to anyone.’
Eileen’s critique arrived a few hours later, with a suggestion to send to Bath Flash Fiction Award. I’d had an urgent call out to the laboratory where I work in the interim, and was chopping up someone’s spleen or something when I saw her message. I nearly forgot about it until nearer the deadline.
- The style is what Kathy Fish calls ‘one breathless paragraph’. And it works very well, suggesting all the facets and layers of a life in one short moment, with the mundane – the paper plates – and the marvellous and mysterious – the shooting star – happening at the end. Would you say this is a typical example of your writing style?
I enjoy reading contradictory juxtapositions, so use them to flavour my writing. It’s a style that suits flash fiction, though I have used it with more restraint in novels too. The ‘breathless paragraph’ flowing style also features in ‘building the fundamentals’ and ‘Umnath’
Many of the items in the narrator’s list in ‘The Cool Box’ have a deeper significance for me. Although this is not explained in the flash, I think it adds to the feeling of a very full mind, with thoughts struggling to reach the surface. The musicality of the words was important, particularly the rhythm, so that influenced some of the choices. The shooting star was to elevate the piece when the narrator sank back into the mundane.
- As well as writing short short fiction, you are also writing a novel, Paper Prison which I saw on your website, you were half-way through on 10th November. Can you tell us more about this?
I’m three-quarters of the way through Paper Prison. The novel examines the life of a disabled woman, narrated in the year 2073, when she is 69. It’s about love, limitations, family loyalty and betrayal. The story was inspired by my thirteen-year-old nephew Finn, whose alter-ego appears in Chapter Five.
My first two novels Hidden Truths and The Iris Tattoo were ‘my love life is shit, oh and here’s some head-fuck adult contemporary fiction’. After that, I wanted to write something more cerebral. I researched Partition in India and read through notes of my father’s early life, and then wrote 650 words of The Crazed Wind. It’s currently in the ‘too hard’ folder.
On the basis that many authors approach publishable standard by about novel number six, I can write two or three more in the ‘my love life is shit, oh and here’s some head-fuck’ genre, adding a bit more serious stuff each time. It’s been fun researching mesenchymal stem cell transplantation for Paper Prison, and discovering the future is already here with driverless cars and synthetic meat, but I still get to enjoy writing steamy sex-in-the-shower scenes.
I’m trying to write protagonists who are different from me. So a heterosexual, European disabled woman has sex for the first time in the shower takes a lot of imagination. I’m much more of a bath person (no pun intended). Don’t like showers. All that water on the back of your neck. Ew.
- You make beautiful glass pendants – I am lucky enough to own several you sent me – and also work as a visual artist creating wonderful ‘pourings’. We’d love to know more about this side of your work.
Did I say I was a hoarder? And obsessive? When I home-brewed, I made enough wine to kill a human being five-hundred times over. There’s still some in the garage. Possibly quality suffered at the expense of quantity. The same could be said about the pendants. I’d mass produce hundreds whilst my partner drew designs, planned and crafted one. Anyone wanting any, contact me though my website: www.nodghosh.com
The latest obsession is ‘acrylic dirty pouring’. It’s leading to a house bursting with paintings.
The hoarding is probably a cultural thing, having parents who lived through the privations of Partition. We don’t let go easily. We need a ‘little more just in case’.
Acrylic dirty pouring came to me in September when I had a ‘flu-like illness’. (Still don’t know whether it was ‘flu. Trying to get tested was like attempting to opening a bank account in the Shetlands whilst paragliding in Uruguay). Too buggered to read or write, I watched clips on YouTube, which linked to demonstrations of this oddly satisfying technique.
It’s the perfect hobby for a lazy person. Although I have completed several mixed media art courses, none of those skills are required for pouring. You mix paint and stuff in a cup and tip it out on a canvas. There’s not a lot more to it than that.
I’m not very good at talking my work up am I? That’s why I’m unlikely to ever self publish a novel. Can you imagine the blurb? ‘Well it’s probably a pile of rubbish, but I’ve got five more of them if you want’.
- What’s happening in the New Zealand flash fiction world at the moment? It seems pretty lively with the journal Flash Frontier, with which you are involved and the National Flash Fiction Day, New Zealand.
With publications such as The Best Small Fictions you gain an idea of where in the English speaking world flash is prevalent. New Zealand is well represented, not least because of the journal and competition you mention, created by Michelle Elvy.
I was fortunate to be associate editor for Flash Frontier until June, when I stopped in order to write Paper Prison. There have been some phenomenal pieces written by Kiwi authors.
Other publications such as ’Takahē’ now accept Flash submissions.
- Who are your favourite flash fiction writers? And what is it you admire about their writing?
Many, varied, and too many to mention. There is a very strong flash community on Facebook, where I read a lot of work. Many pieces from regular contributors, such as Paul Beckman, Sandra Arnold, Jonathan Cardew, Sudha Balagopal, and others who contribute the occasional gem.
What I want is something that takes me to where the writer’s mind is, grasps me by the neck for attention, then swings me around for more. I want the piece to sound out well in my head, the sentence length, assonance, rhythm all needs to be fine-tuned. I want magic in there that takes me beyond ordinary life. Yet if there is anything that alludes to reality, it has to be plausible until you reach the surreal parts. Strange is not the same as wrong.
You mentioned Kathy Fish. Her ‘Collective Nouns for Humans’ is one of the most articulate, poignant pieces I have read. Everything about it is right, even down to the timing of publication. She asked the editor at Jellyfish Review to place this piece on 13th October, instead of another story she had scheduled. If anyone hasn’t read this piece, even if you don’t follow any other links in this article, read this one. You won’t regret it.
- We’re asking all the winning authors we interview to tell us where they write and if they have a daily writing schedule. What’s your approach?
I write on a beanbag in front of the fire in winter, or at our dining table, with occasional trips to the library. I’m working on the schedule. Taking more breaks, trying to write every day, varying where I sit.
It can be easy to forget you need to live life in order to write. Hard, when you’re trying to churn out another chapter. Beach walks are good to get ideas flowing. So is cycling. I don’t take notes whilst on my bike. Not after one near miss. I wouldn’t recommend it.
Sometimes I forget to leave time to read, so recently I’ve started taking books into the spa pool. They get a bit wrinkled, but at least I didn’t take a Kindle.
- Finally, a top tip for anyone wanting to write a 300 word maximum flash fiction for the next round of Bath Flash Fiction.
One tip? Choose a piece that makes you sigh when you read it yourself.