Author Archives: Jude

Xavier Combe October 2019 Third Prize

The Games People Play

by Xavier Combe

When I got on the métro at Bastille, there was standing room only.

I squeezed in and found a space next to a young guy who was on his cellphone, playing a war game.

I thought to myself those two words don’t belong near each other.

I could see explosions and mass killings. His display flashed a body count at the top. By the time the metro pulled in at Opera, he had killed 260 people and destroyed three villages. The level he had reached entitled him to use even more powerful weapons and ammunition. And give orders to other shooters. Allies, presumably.

I tapped him on the shoulder. He ignored me and went on firing. I tapped him on the shoulder again. He hit pause and looked over at me, reluctantly. I gave him an appreciative little smile. He didn’t get the sarcasm. He resumed his shooting.

As we were about to reach Boucicaut, I tapped him on the shoulder once more but before he could hit pause I asked him what time it was. The distraction caused his weapon to misfire. He looked at me. He was irritated. I moved away and got off the métro.

As I walked on the platform towards the exit I said to myself I had probably saved about twenty lives and spared two or three huts in a village, somewhere.

About the Author

Xavier Combe is a freelance conference interpreter and translator. He teaches at the University of Paris X. He has authored two non-fiction books in French (L'anglais de l'Hexagone and 11+1 propositions pour défendre le français) as well as op-eds in the French press. He writes and produces audio fiction with 2-time Peabody award winner Jim Hall on their website Muffy Drake.
He has two adult sons and lives in the Paris suburbs with his wife, their two teenage daughters and their dog Zelda.

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Catherine Higgins-Moore October 2019 Commended

Mo bhuachaillín beag

by Catherine Higgins-Moore

I knew it when I went to the Royal. But I did what I was bid.
"You’ll be alright, Love. Wait ‘til your next appointment."

I should’ve stayed. I should’ve tried harder. But when you’re twenty, and you’ve gone nowhere and you’ve done nothing, people think you are nothing. Divis Flats?
Nothing.

I wore sanitary towels every day for a week. Took Panadol like Smarties.

Monday morning I rushed in through the heavy glass doors, my feet soaked. Kept waiting an hour.
Different nurse. Never met my eye.

No heartbeat.

"Better this way than getting one that’s not right." She said, handing me a scrap of paper towel to wipe the jelly off.

Twenty weeks I had him. No time at all. Mo bhuachaillín beag.
A hundred and forty days.

We said we’d try for another but then he moved into the Maze. Plotting against the peelers. Two years sitting alone before ‘Fuck it. I’m off.’

New York, New York.

Can never go back. Didn’t come properly. No visa nor nothing. What’s to go back for?

I see wee ones, poor like mine woulda been. Always buttoned-up wrong. Not one to give a damn about them coming outta school, or send them home in the right knick. Mothers with enough on their plates.

The wealthy ones are always buttoned up right.

I nanny for a coupla girls in the West Village. Gorgeous wee things. New outfits every day. Drawers full of clothes.

My wee mite would’ve been coming in bedraggled. I’da been cursing at him for tearing the arse outta his trousers. Shouting at him to wait ‘til payday for a new pair.

I’m a bit like them. Same hair and pale skin. Their granny was Irish.

People take me for their mother sometimes. I don’t like to correct them.

About the Author

Catherine Higgins-Moore is a Northern Irish writer based in New York. A former BBC journalist, she contributes to The Times Literary Supplement and is founding editor of The Irish Literary Review. In 2019 Catherine was longlisted for the Harper Collins' Comedy Women in Print Prize and highly commended in Poetry London’s Clore Prize. Her play, The Maternity Monologues enjoyed its world premiere in New York, and was commended in BBC’s International Playwriting Award. Her poetry collection, Strange Roof, is published by Finishing Line Press. Catherine has been awarded bursaries by Kenneth Branagh, and the University of Oxford. 

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Michael Mcloughlin October 2019 Commended

Old Glory

by Michael Mcloughlin

Pa’s busy, so he lets me help him pick potatoes. “Just follow me girl and chuck them in the box.”

Later, we pick up ma from the school hall, in pa’s new truck. She’s also busy, working with her friends. But she doesn’t allow me to help her. She says it’s no place for kids. She tells me she sews. I even see bits of white cotton on her clothes. Every time I ask her what she’s sewing, she just says, “Y’all gonna see come July four. It’ll be like something Nebraska ain’t never seen before.”

On the drive home, ma tells pa they’ve reached their total of one thousand. Pa sounds happy, “That’s great, dear!” He’s almost as happy as he was when he bought his truck; he was one of the first round these parts to get one.

The valley’s quite tonight, but tomorrow it will be filled with excitement. We’re expecting a big crowd to watch the parade. I’m sure looking forward to that. According to the newspaper, over five-thousand people will gather at the park. Pa says that’ll be ten times the population of our town.  

Today, Old Glory is proudly floated from the flagstaff of pa’s truck. The people watching extend right through town, waving the stars and stripes, and cheering on the procession. Impossible to tell who’s who going past with them hoods and robes they’re all wearing. I notice a group of hatless negros standing on the sidewalk, but they don’t look happy to me. Maybe the heat’s affecting them; but then it can’t be, cos pa says the sun don’t affect them.

About the Author

Michael Mcloughlin grew up in Liverpool, UK; but by the mid-80’s, he’d had enough of Thatcher’s regime and escaped to the brighter shores of Australia. He works in mental health and likes to write in his spare time. He’s quite new to flash fiction competitions and is looking forward to entering more of them. He has also recently completed a novel and hopes to find an agent. He lives in Hobart, Tasmania.

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Interview with Debra A. Daniel, author of ‘The Roster’, highly commended in the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award, 2019

The Roster by Debra A. Daniel was published in June this year and launched in the UK at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol. Our 2019 judge, Michael Loveday, had this to say about the novella:

This "ensemble cast” novella has a fresh and original concept — a sequence of stories about a teacher’s pupils at a school, more or less one story for each pupil. The students’ eccentricities, rebelliousness and vulnerabilities are depicted with warmth, fondness, and very often, an absolutely heart-breaking poignancy, as in the case of the child with brittle bones, or the young boy grieving his sister. There is black humour too, in places, and endings that are intensely lyrical. The characterisations are superbly individualised, vivid, inventive and memorable, and are written with beautiful variety of expression. A novella-in-flash of immense charm that has real emotional substance.

Debra has also launched the novella in the US now. The pictures in this post are taken at one of her launches and we're thrilled that her husband, song writer Jack McGregor, recorded three songs based on characters within the book, which you can listen to here, on sound cloud.https://soundcloud.com/jmcgregor/sets/the-roster You can buy the novella directly in paperback in several different currencies from the Ad Hoc Fiction bookshop.Our 2020 Novella Award is open for entries now until mid January 2020. Read Debra's excellent tips on writing one at the end of this interview with her. Read in Full

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‘All That Is Between Us’, Interview with author, K. M. Elkes

We're holding the Bath launch of All That Is Between Us by K. M. Elkes on 28th September, 7.30 pm - 10.00 pm, at St James' Wine Vaults in Bath at our celebration evening of flash fiction readings. It is a wonderful collection which was first launched into the world at The Flash Fiction Festival at the end of June this year. It's interesting to hear how Ken put the book together and what he says about his own writing style. And the picture below shows Ken's selfie in front of a happy festival crowd. We looking forward to hearing more stories from the book at the readings in Bath so do come. And you can read more about the collection here in a previous post and buy from the Ad Hoc Fiction bookshop.

    Interview – K.M. Elkes
  • Writers are always interested in how authors decide on the sequence of the fictions in a collection. Will you tell us how you arrived at yours?
    I could say I spent sleepless nights poring over a moveable patchwork of story titles, scrawled onto old envelopes and bits of crumpled paper, furniture pushed back to the walls, neglected mugs of tea on every surface, working out a sequence that would carry the reader aloft through the whole book. But that would be pure fiction.
    In truth, as with my writing, the sequencing was mostly instinctive – finding stories that spooned together like lovers or created syncopation through a sudden change of style or length. Juxtaposing stories that had bounce and urgency in the language, with those that were more dense and required more input from the reader.
    A few pieces were more deliberately placed because there are subtle, hazy story arcs in the collection, with the same characters recurring in different sections of the book.
    I wish I could offer some practical advice to anyone putting a collection together, but the simple truth is that unless the structure of the book relies on certain stories being in certain places then sequencing is more art than science. The best I can say is start with some good ones, then go with your gut.

Read in Full

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Flash Fiction Book Launch and Celebration Readings

Come along to the Bath book launch of All That is Between Us, the highly acclaimed debut flash fiction collection by K.M. Elkes published by Ad Hoc Fiction in June, 2019. There will be additional readings from writers who are members of the 2019 Flash Fiction Festival Team, the weekend volunteer group and the festival presenters.

Venue: St James Wine Vaults, 10 St James Street, Bath, BA1 2TW
Date and Time: Saturday 28th September, 7.30 - 10.00 pm.

Free Entry. Plus free wine and nibbles. Late Bar. Books for sale with cash or by card.

As well celebrating Ken's new book, the evening is also a celebration of several recent successes from Bath Flash Fiction and Ad Hoc Fiction:
In May, Finding A Way the flash fiction collection by Diane Simmons, which Ad Hoc Fiction published in February this year was short listed in the short story category of the 2019 Saboteur Awards; Flash Fiction Festival 2018 was short listed in the Literary Festival category of the 2019 Saboteur Awards; in mid June, Ad Hoc Fiction won the publisher category of the 2019 Creative Bath Awards and in late June, the third annual Flash Fiction Festival which is sponsored primarily by Bath Flash Fiction and Ad Hoc Fiction was held in Bristol and was a great success.

K. M. Elkes who is also a Flash Fiction Festival Team Member will begin the evening with readings from his book and we will also hear flash fictions from Jude Higgins, Diane Simmons, Santino Prinzi, Alison Woodhouse, John Wheway, Grace Palmer and Carrie Etter. We're hoping that Michael Loveday will also be able to join us.

Hope to see you there.

All That Is Between Us by K.M. Elkes and Finding A Way are available to buy in paperback from the Ad Hoc Fiction online bookshop or in digital formats on Kindle.

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Review by Marissa Hoffmann of ‘the everrumble’ by Michelle Elvy

Michelle Elvy's small-novel-in-small-forms, the everrumble was published by our Award Winning Press Ad Hoc Fiction on 22nd June this year and launched at NFFD New Zealand on that day and a week later at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol, UK. It is an extraordinary book and has received great advanced acclaim from Christopher Allen, who introduced it at the festival, Robert Scotellaro, Tracy Slaughter and Catherine McNamara. the everrumble is currently longlisted for the Not-The-Booker-Prize at the Guardian Newspaper in the UK. If you would like to support a great small novel reaching a larger audience, please vote here for her book by August 5th. You have to make a comment on the book and nominate another one by a different publisher. You can buy the everrumble in paperback in several different currencies for posting worldwide from the Ad Hoc Fiction bookshop or in digital format as a Kindle book, via Amazon. Michelle is doing a reading tour of her book in the USA in August and September and following that in New Zealand and Europe. We recommend it as a ground-breaking book and thank Marissa Hoffmann, a writer based in Switzerland, who came to the flash fiction festival this year, for reviewing the novel below.

Review by Marissa Hoffmann

the everrumble is a journey into the senses with protagonist Zettie who, aged seven, stops talking and finds the world becomes louder with the smaller sounds. So acute is her hearing that Zettie—in love with life—painfully aware of the cruelty of man—finds solace in her connection to the world through living sounds; heartbeats, whale cries, a language in the roots of the trees, or a mosquito several houses down the street. Zettie spends a lifetime learning how to control the cacophony.

In the opening story entitled 'Dark and Shadow', we first meet Zettie as a small girl finding a small space in a sensory world, "Zettie has curled herself so tight she can’t feel the fissures anymore; she’s smooth like a marble, no sharp edges. Under the woolly cover, she hears her own breath and nothing else. The blanket is blue and green, with streaks of orange (papaya, really) and yellow (mango really) and a deep red: primeval soil"

Because each story is so rich with colour and texture, with temperature and taste, the exquisite language carries the reader musically, poetically, nourishingly closer to Zettie, leaving us unable to respond with anything other than love for her.

All of Elvy’s stories use Zettie’s experience of sound and space, her primal connection to nature as a way for the reader to understand how Zettie makes sense of the world. A particular favourite story of mine deals with the question of why she is silent, simply with the answer—and the story’s title—'Because'.

The collection reads like a snakes-and-ladders journey, jumping forwards and backwards through Zettie’s whole life and sliding into her dreams along the way. We come to know Zettie’s small world and her sense of the whole world all at once. Playful Zettie names individual bees, curious Zettie travels and finds love—always searching for the 'everrumble'—and the contented elderly Zettie joyfully embraces her metaphysical investigation into time and truth through sound and stories, phrases and languages.

The structure of the everrumble is supported with markers of time and space. Book notes, made by Zettie, begin each story offering poignant extracts that hold truths for her, quotes she takes guidance from. Elvy has expertly placed a heartbeat of historical moments pulsing throughout the stories that serve to contextualise Zettie’s conflicts and responses. Carefully chosen moments provide the geography of Zettie’s travels by sea and land for example when she shares the first time she sees an elephant or when she tenderly holds a dying child for the crying parents.

We find ourselves slowing our own hearts to listen and appreciate. Although Zettie’s relationships as a daughter, friend, a lover, a mother maybe without voice, they are filled with laughter, with warmth and with shared understanding. Everrumble asks ‘have you ever heard the sleep of a child? It is the colour of soft melon, the smell of freshly moan grass’. That sound, a sleeping child, we know the beauty in that, it’s a physical experience, just as the book is. the everrumble is a whisper and a roar.
Marissa Hoffmann, July, 2019.

Marissa Hoffmann's flash has been awarded highly commended at FlashBack Fiction and short listed at the Bath Flash Fiction Award and Flash Frontier’s 'Micro Madness' contest. She is an Ad Hoc Fiction winner and has stories at Milk Candy Review, Bending Genres, Paragraph Planet, The Drabble and Reflex Fiction. Marissa has flash forthcoming at Citron Review and StorgyKids and is a fiction reader at Atticus Review. She tweets @hoffmannwriter.

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Interview with Johanna Robinson about her novella-in-flash, ‘Homing’

Johanna Robinson's wonderful novella-in-flash Homing was a runner-up in the 2019 Bath Novella-in-Flash Award judged by Michael Loveday. The novella, which spans four decades, tells the story of a family's involvement with the Resistance Movement in Norway during World War 11 and its aftermath on their lives. It was launched at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol at the end of June this year. Homing is already on its second print run and has been dispatched all over the world.
You can buy a paperback copy from the Ad Hoc Fiction Bookshop and digital copies will be available from Kindle via Amazon soon. Johanna's novella, although short at 18,000 words, has the scope and depth of a much longer novel, It is currently longlisted for the 2019 'Not-The-Booker Prize'. (although they have made a mistake on the list, saying it is published by Louise Walters Press and not 'Ad Hoc Fiction'. You might like to support her and vote for it. (Voting is openhere until next Monday 5th August) Read the fascinating interview below with Johanna if you are thinking of writing a novella-in-flash, historical or otherwise for our 2020 Award or elsewhere, or if you want to become absorbed in a compelling and beautifully written story on a subject you may know little about.

  • I believe you did some of the research for Homing years ago. Can you tell us about this and about the process of transforming it into a novella in flash?

I first picked up snippets about the Norwegian resistance when I was on a year abroad at Oslo University. A few years later, 2002 or so, I began to read the stories of the ‘Shetland Bus’, a scheme whereby fishing boats were used to smuggle men and goods from Norway to Shetland. In fact, I wrote a whole chunk of novel-style creative writing about it, but I never really planned to do anything with it and it has sat on various computers ever since. I couldn’t let go of the stories of that community, though. Then, last year, when doing more research, online this time, I discovered the story of the village of Telavåg, and it was here that I felt the various stories could crystallise. At first – and nothing to do with flash – I wanted to write about the teachers who were taken to concentration camps. This was the first piece I wrote, and it ended up very short, and that felt right. At that point, a door had been opened, a way into writing about that time in history. This coincided with discovering the novella-in-flash format. Actually, this first piece was the only one that changed substantially. Also, two chapters in Homing, ‘Lotion I’ and ‘Lotion II’, began life in that early writing – I was really happy that I managed to weave them into the novella; it seemed the right thing to do.

  • The story, spanning several decades, is very compelling and I particularly like how you use the symbol of the paper clip and the suitcase to carry the reader forward. Was this a deliberate strategy on your part?

Yes, and no. The paper clip was something that I couldn’t not have written about, as it was an aspect that I encountered a lot back in the early days of research, albeit often in a minor way. As a result, it featured in a number of the first flash pieces I wrote, and actually drove the story in the early stages. The suitcase, however, was a very late addition, and it emerged in one of the stories I wrote in a Meg Pokrass online workshop in December 2018. It found its way into one piece, and a couple of other workshop participants asked what may have happened to the case next/earlier. Already the suitcase was something that operated beyond the boundaries of that little individual story. When it came to weaving it through, it was a pretty easy job. It was as though my brain had inserted it in that Meg-workshop story, ready to be used elsewhere.

  • Did you write individual pieces first, before you put them into a sequence?

I wrote them first, without thinking of an order. The sequence came at the very end, although, because it’s largely chronological,that wasn’t a difficult process. Once I had a timeline of people’s ages and the events that couldn’t be moved because of historical accuracy, the sequence really took care of itself. I think having a specific event and time as a springboard for the whole story, and for all the small, individual stories, helped me not worry too much about a narrative pattern when I was in the process of writing.

  • Were there any particular novellas in flash you read beforehand that helped you to compose your own?

Yes, definitely. The first one I came across was Stephanie Hutton’s Three Sisters of Stone, in May 2018, and so this was my first encounter with the novella-in-flash form. I was hooked! I then read How to Make a Window Snake and the two others in the 2017 Bath Novella-in-flash anthology; I reread the title novella of this anthology by Charmaine Wilkerson a few times while I was writing mine. I read the Rose Metal Press Field Guide on my Kindle because I was too impatient to wait for delivery, as well as Meg Pokrass’s Here Where We Live, and the other stories in My Very End of the Universe. Finally, I devoured Sophie van Llewyn’s Bottled Goods one weekend in a motor home, in October 2018. I loved that the grand story was interspersed with different forms and strange ideas – as a reader I really didn’t know what I would be getting when I turned over the page, and that in itself kept me turning.

  • What did you find the most difficult thing about creating the novella?

Probably the voice in my head that kept saying only some of the pieces were really good enough to be published. Some of the pieces – once I’d found the story – needed to be written to ‘join’ others together, and I just wasn’t sure if they looked like filler pieces, like something dashed off to fulfil a function. Much later on, when the book was nearly published actually, I finally silenced that voice, as I realised not every chapter needs to be the best piece of writing you’ve ever written – and perhaps that’s even more the case the longer the final work is. In Birds with Horse Hearts, the 2019 Bath winning novella by Ellie Walsh, each chapter is filled with beautiful, lyrical writing. It’s gorgeous, and it fits perfectly the length of the book and the setting. With mine, I think another function of the ‘filler’ chapters was to provide a breather from some of the events and fall-out of the war.

  • What was the most unexpected thing that happened during the writing of it?

That I created a life for the main character that went way beyond the initial setting of Norway in WWII. Also, how textured it ended up feeling at the end. I liked how, although there is a linear movement, the short flash fiction form allows a texture to build up.

  • Top tips for writers who might be embarking on one?

Thinking back, what really helped me was the expectation that no one would ever read it. That allowed me to be experimental with form, to take different perspectives, beyond those of the main characters. Cheat. If you need to get from Chapter 7 to Chapter 9, experiment with Chapter 8 – how can it link 7 and 9 in the brilliant, brief way only flash fiction can? It might work, it might not, but of course, nothing’s ever wasted

The other thing that really helped me – and without it there wouldn’t be a novella – was doing a flash fiction course at the point I’d run out of steam a little. I had come to a standstill – I couldn’t be sure who my main character was, and I definitely didn’t have a narrative arc to the whole thing, or an end in mind. What Meg Pokrass’s prompts course did was, first, make me write seven pieces in two weeks, and second, drag me out of the story, giving me a different perspective. The prompts, of course, had nothing to do with my book’s setting, but they forced me to look at certain aspects of it in a new light, to pull on threads that I hadn’t realised were there and see what came of them.

  • Flash fiction is something you have come to only recently. What is it that you particularly like about the form?

In terms of the writing, I love the challenge. At university, I always over-wrote, always had to cut-cut-cut words out of my work, but that’s where and when things get to be good. In terms of reading flash, it has been a revelation to me what people can do in tiny numbers of words – and I feel it especially in historical flash, which can make snapshots into stories. Also, in terms of both reading and writing, I love language and word play, and the little coincidences and thrills that can happen when it really works in a new way. I think flash is just a great crucible for that.

  • Have you any new writing projects on the go at the moment?

When I finished the novella, I wasn’t sure I’d do another, because I’d had the history in my head for so many years. Yeah, well, that didn’t last! I’m planning another historical book, but hopefully a lot longer, and hopefully still in flash form. I’ve been doing research for it, and could go on for ever with that, but I’m planning on actually starting to write something soon. It definitely feels different this time – harder to just get on and do it – now that Homing is out in the world.

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