- 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.
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A multi-talented creative artist, Catherine is an inspiration in many ways. Here she tells us how being immersed in the culture of former pit villages, and a vintage picture of boys playing outside Elsecar Colliery, prompted her second prize winning story ‘The Hierarchy of Substances.’ She’s a dedicated writer who begins writing early, continues on and off throughout the day and has many current projects on the go, including finishing a novel which she began in last November’s NaNoWriMo. She also writes poetry and talks here about the similarity between writing poetry and flash fiction… “the music and the flow of the text matters in both forms.” Catherine is a musician by training and an artist. We need to look out for her on Sky Arts ‘Landscape Artist of the Year’ where she is a contestant, having also been in last year’s ‘Portrait Artist of the Year.' We love her self-portrait reproduced here, and her drawing of a pit pony. And we like her advice for entrants to Bath Flash Fiction Award to "sock it to them with that first sentence."
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Nancy Stohlman is the author of the flash collection The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (2014), the flash novels The Monster Opera (2013) and Searching for Suzi: a flash novel (2009), and three anthologies of flash fiction including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape (2010), which was a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is the creator and curator of The Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series in Denver, the creator of FlashNano in November, and she has been published in over 100 journals and anthologies including the forthcoming Norton anthology New Microfictions (2018). Find out more about her at nancystohlman.com
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We were fascinated to read that our first prize winner, Rose McDonagh, is a late night writer and has written almost every day since she was fifteen. Her winning piece was drafted in a community writing group she runs, inspired from one of her own exercises. She says, although it’s not always about getting published, a story gets “half its life from its author and half from being read and understood by other people.” Many writers have commented on the meaning of 'Pony' to them on social media. It’s a story with much resonance. David Swann, our October round judge, said “Haunting and elusive, yet simultaneously plain-speaking and precise – a story I won’t ever forget and my clear winner. Tremendous.”
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The third instalment of one of the most popular and esteemed series of flash fiction anthologies, The Best Small Fictions 2017 (Braddock Avenue Books, 2017), is an essential read for every flash fiction writer or reader. From Matthew Baker’s island of presidential doppelgangers to Harriot West’s ekphrastic haibun story about Van Gogh’s sunflowers, each of the pieces in this anthology proves that writers are not only continuing to produce high-quality flash fiction, but that the imagination and scope of flash fiction is far-reaching, whether writers choose to explore the uncharted or re-invent the wheel.
A wonderful aspect of this series is its author spotlight, which includes an interview with an author with either more than one story in the anthology or multiple nominations (and being nominated just the once is an achievement in itself!). This year’s spotlight author is Joy Williams, a renowned American writer. The two stories, taken from 99 Stories of God (Tin House Books, 2016) serve as a great opening to the anthology and as a taster of Williams’ engaging, stripped-back collection itself. ‘36’ tells the story of Penny and the house she and her husband lived in, a house that she despises and rents out after her husband’s death. The story is laced with wit, the language is stripped back to the bare essentials, and culminates in a final striking image that offers a spectacular opening to the anthology.
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Stephanie Clement Photography
Tara L. Masih is editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction and The Chalk Circle (both ForeWord Books of the Year), author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows, and Founding Series Editor of the Best Small Fictions series. Her flash appears in Word of Mouth, Brevity & Echo, Flash Fiction Funny, Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose, and W.W. Norton’s forthcoming New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction. Featured in Fiction Writer’s Review for National Short Story Month, her flash received Wigleaf Top 50 recognition and other awards. Her novel, The Witness Tree, set in WW II Ukraine, is forthcoming.
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I once knew a woman who really did have a long hank of her hair in a drawer. I think it had been cut off when she was a child, but I have no idea of the background to the story. I’ve only recently remembered seeing it, and from the vantage point of many years I started thinking, “What on earth was that about?” It seemed to me that there was a tremendous amount of regret tied up with the act of keeping it. Of course, hair has always been a potent symbol in stories - of power, strength, beguilement, for instance - but, for me, “Tying the Boats” had to be about regret, the hair a symbol of something lost, of a warning unheeded.
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When I read Helen Rye's One in Twenty-Three on the Bath Flash Fiction Award's website, everything froze. I sat there with tears rolling down my face. I come from Vietnam where our natural beauty, homes and people were devastated by wars and conflicts. Many Vietnamese died because of bombs and then afterwards during their journeys on boats. I felt my Vietnam inside Helen's story. One in Twenty-Three is not just about one country or one person, it's about the evil of wars and the strength of the human spirit. I knew I had to translate One in Twenty-Three because I knew many Vietnamese would feel consoled by this story. As soon as I got Helen's permission and the permission from the Bath Flash Fiction Award, I started my translation work, refining it during the next week. My conversations with Helen helped me dive deeper into One in Twenty-Three. I submitted the final translation to the national newspaper Hà Nội Mới and it was immediately accepted. I am thankful to the Bath Flash Fiction Award for organizing such a meaningful writing competition that gives voices to those who need to speak. Thank you to Helen Rye for writing a story that makes me weep every time I read it. I'm delighted that all the commission associated with the publication of One in Twenty-Three in Vietnamese is donated to the Ban Mai scholarship program, to assist poor children of Vietnam in continuing their schooling.
I look forward to translating more of the prize-winning stories from the Bath Fiction Award.
About the Translator
Nguyen Phan Que Mai is an award-winning Vietnamese writer and translator. Fifteen of her books in poetry, fiction, non-fiction and translations have been published in Vietnamese and English. Que Mai’s first international publication, The Secret of Hoa Sen (poems, BOA Editions, 2014) received a Lannan Translation Award. Que Mai’s first novel in English is forthcoming with Algonquin Books (New York) in Spring 2019. For more information about her work, visit her website: nguyenphanquemai.com
American writer, Meg Pokrass, is a flash fiction writer, poet and writing tutor. Her books include flash fiction collections, Bird Envy (2014), Damn Sure Right (Press 53 2011) and The Dog Looks Happy Upsidedown (forthcoming from Etruscan Press 2016) and an award-winning book of prose poetry Cellulose Pajamas (Blue Light Book Award Winner 2015). Among her many other publications, she has a flash-fiction novella and essay on the form in My Very End of the Universe, Five mini-novellas in flash and a Study of the Form published by Rose Metal Press. Meg recently moved from the United States to England. In addition to judging our new Flash Fiction Novella Award, you can often join her and others for an evening of flash fiction, booking here.
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Charmaine tells us how, on a walk around the ancient wall of Rome she arrived at the inspiration for her wonderful first prize winning novella-in-flash How to Make a Window Snake. When writing at her dining room table, she had to battle interruptions from her family and from others in distant time zones. It is interesting to learn how the structure of this novella emerged and how Charmaine was influenced by many different authors writing stories within stories. The tipping point for her to give the form a go, was reading the novellas-in-flash and essays by Meg Pokrass and others in the guide My Very End of the Universe published by Rose Metal Press. Ending the whole piece was the most difficult part of the writing for Charmaine. But take advice from her if you are embarking on a novella-in-flash – don’t force it. “Let your stories emerge, breathe some life into them, and then see if this is the structure that will allow them to blossom.”
You’ll be able to read How to Make a Window Snake, and the two runner-up novellas-in-flash by Joanna Campbell and Ingrid Jendrzejewski shortly. Our publisher, Ad Hoc Fiction, is in the process of compiling the book, due to be published in June.
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