Fiona Perry is our 15th first prize winner in our three times a year Award, which has been running since 2016. Here she tells us how her winning story emerged from a ‘Covid’ dream about her father and a memory of going fishing with him. The painting reproduced here by Nod Ghosh, writer and artist, who is also the judge for our 16th Bath Flash Award, which ends in mid October, is called ‘The Sock’ and we agree with Fiona that it is very evocative of the sock of mussels alluded to in ‘Sea Change Fiona gives the tip to read lots of flash in order to get into the swing of writing it. We agree. There’s so much amazing stuff out there in anthologies, online and collections. Flash is evolving all the time. And we are very happy that ‘Sea Change’ will be published in our fifth year-end anthology in November this year, with many other great pieces from our 2020 Awards.
- Can you tell us how your wonderful story ‘Sea Change’ came into being?
Fragments of the story originated a Covid dream. My Dad died almost two years ago, I woke up with images of him visiting me at home. In the dream, he was in his prime and happy, we cooked mussels together. He had a friend with a boat and in the summer we would be given crab claws which we would boil and bash open with a hammer on the doorstep to eat with buttered new potatoes grown in our garden. We also loved the holiday oysters we would eat in Carlingford. Fishermen sold on them shucked on the roadside. You could park up in layby and wolf them down with Tobasco sauce! I think those things must have been swimming around in my head before I went to sleep.
Before I structured the story, I researched mussels farming briefly, it was a bit of a gift because the language itself is so evocative and the process of mussel farming sounded symbolic of fatherhood (and transformation) to me so I wrote the story with that in mind. I’m also fascinated by how things and locations appear and disappear in dreams- a bit like a weirdly edited film- but somehow we accept that weirdness in dreams, we are rarely surprised. That’s how it came to be. It was interesting that Mary-Jane alluded to Gabriel García Márquez in her report. I re-read 100 Years of Solitude in lockdown so I guess that influence seeped into the story somehow too.
- You are also a poet and Alchemy, your first collection is to be published by Turas Press (Dublin) in Autumn 2020. Can you tell us something about this collection?
Yes, I am very excited about that. It was fascinating to pull the poems together and present them in a coherent way- I suppose it is similar in a way to assembling or sequencing an album. But generally, I find it really difficult to interpret my own work in an articulate way. I was very fortunate to have had the collection read and appraised by several writers I admire very much. Here is Glen Wilson’s endorsement which I think captures the essence from a reader’s perspective:
“Perry’s sumptuous collection shifts through memory, family and nature with consummate ease, journeying through vivid landscapes whilst describing in unflinching detail formative events and places. ‘Intensive Care’ just one of many moving poems that showcase her talent in this regard. Perry makes use of a menagerie of animals such as wolves and panthers to render her poems whilst also drawing upon spiritual and historical sources to create these revealing pieces, all delivered in her unique, eloquent and fearless voice.” Glen Wilson (Author of An Experience on the Tongue, Doire Press)
- Some writers don’t fix their short-form writing under the labels prose poetry or flash fiction. Others do. What is your view on this and your own writing?
- I understand that resistance to labels, especially as I think my poems incorporate a storytelling or narrative element as well as being imagistic. Although, as a rough personal guide, I tend to label my work as ‘poems’ if they have a song form, by that I mean a strong rhythm. I usually hear them as I write. If the narrative element and the characters are predominant, I label them as ‘stories’. They are quite distinct to me. Sometimes if an idea doesn’t work, I realise I have started off in the wrong form, I change course and it comes together naturally.
- You recently moved to England after living in New Zealand for some time. A big move in the current situation. Have you been able to write during lockdown?
We returned to the UK a year ago. We were away as a family for about five years. Before New Zealand, we lived in Western Australia for a while. Lockdown has been obviously a strange time but travelling and settling in new places as wonderful as it is, by its very nature, is also disruptive to routine and a bit disorientating at times. I find being in a state of flux quite inspirational. It prompts a lot of taking stock and introspection. Writing is a massive outlet for me.
- When you are writing, do you have a favourite place and time of day? Music on or off, pets as distractions or muses?
If I manage to set aside a chunk of quiet, uninterrupted time to write, I enjoy night time when my children have gone to bed. Definitely music through earphones and facing a window for some reason. I try to match the music to the mood of whatever I’m writing to get a flow going. But the ‘typing up’ is just one part of the whole for me. I mull over ideas at different times throughout the day, showering, walking and cooking etc. I rarely make notes, if an idea or an image has potential it is pretty persistent.
- Have you any new projects on the go?
I did a screenwriting course recently. It’s a whole new world! Even though I love film, I find it unbelievably challenging as a writing genre. But failing and tinkering is part of the deal if you want to write.
- Top tip for anyone thinking of entering our October Award?
Read loads of great flash fiction! Previous BFF winners Anita Arlov and Nod Ghosh are amazing writers in the short form. Strip out everything unnecessary. Make every single word impactful.