For last minute inspiration for this February round of Bath Flash Fiction Award, which closes this Sunday 11th February at midnight (UK time), we’re catching up with David Rhymes, who won third prize in the June 2017 round of the competition, judged by Meg Pokrass with his story ‘The Place We Live Before We Don’t.’ David lives in Pamplona, Spain and sent us a picture of his contributor’s copy of The Lobsters Run Free, outside the cafe Iruna, where Hemingway used to write. From his description of the rooms upstairs with their comfy velvet benches, it sounds like just the right place to go and get ideas. David describes what prompted his own story in our interview and it’s interesting to think of how time passes in narrative fiction and how that can translate into a powerful micro fiction like his. We’re looking forward to seeing David’s historical novel about a bareknuckle boxer in print, and now he’s been re-energised by a recent Fast Flash Workshop with Kathy Fish, to read more of his short fiction as well.
- Can you tell us how your third prize winning story in the June round of the Bath Flash Award, ‘The Place We Live Before We Don’t’ came into being?
Yes – I was reading On Writing Fiction by David Jauss, specifically the chapter about writing in the present tense. He talks about how time passes in narrative fiction, and whether it is possible to get time to flow in prose for a reader at the same speed as time passes in the world. I took this idea and tried to telescope the events of a whole life into a single paragraph. I hoped it would read at the same speed as the thoughts are experienced in the narrator’s mind. Of course this is basically a “stream of consciousness” technique, but – as I discovered recently in a Kathy Fish workshop – it also fits with a Flash prompt known as “the breathless paragraph.”
- It’s six months since you won third prize in our award, and I know you have been working on your novel. Can you tell us what it’s about and how you are getting on?
The novel is based on the life of William “Bendigo” Thompson, a Victorian bareknuckle boxing champion from Nottingham who later became a preacher. I’ve spent the last six months trying to improve it. The manuscript will shortly be with Mary-Jane Holmes, chief editor at Fish Publishing and winner of the 2017 Bridport Prize for Poetry. Mary-Jane was recommended to me by Annie Syed, another Fast Flash colleague. I hope to have her comments back in Spring and finish a last draft over the summer.
- Have you been writing more flash fiction as well?
Yes, I was in the first Kathy Fish 2018 Fast flash workshop with (among others) one of your previous Bath Flash Fiction prize-winners, Emily Devane. This was a great experience, very energising. I’m now trying to keep up the same rhythm Kathy set in the course, writing one flash a day, pausing on a bench, halfway through walking my dog. I learned so much in two short weeks. I think I understand the form much better than before, so yes, I’m now totally hooked on flash. And I’d like to send a big thank you to Kathy and my course mates for that.
- You sent us a picture of The Lobsters Run Free outside the cafe Iruna in Pamplona where you live, the cafe which Hemingway frequented. For a visitor to Pamplona, is the coffee good there and is it a quiet place to sit and write or people watch?
Yes, in winter the place is warm and quiet. The waiters don’t bother you and you can sit for hours. There are some smaller rooms upstairs with comfy velvet benches, and places where you can write standing up, pretending to be a certain Modernist in 1924. In summer it’s a good deal busier, but there’s always space on the terrace outside.
- I know Flash fiction is popular in Spanish speaking countries like Mexico. Do you know anything about the flash-fiction writing scene in Spain? Do you have a writing community in your area?
I know people locally who've won prizes, in Spanish and Euskera, but I don't belong to any writers groups, or a community per se. For ex-patriate writers working in English, the internet is still the best place to connect.
- Finally, it’s always fascinating to hear another writer’s schedule. Where and when do you write?
I write in the mornings before work, from 5-8.30, five days a week. And always in longhand because I don’t like typing. It helps me to think through what I want to say before I commit anything to paper. And I like the way a pen feels in my hand…