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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Top Tips For Writing A Novella-in-Flash by Michael Loveday, 2020 Novella judge

Michael Loveday judged our 2019 Novella in Flash Award and he is pictured here at a panel about this exciting form at the recent Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol, with from left to right, Charmaine Wilkerson, winner of the inaugural Award in 2017, with How To Make A Window Snake, which later won the 2018 Saboteur Awards for a novella, Johanna Robinson, who wrote the historical novella Homing, a runner up in the 2019 Award and Ellie Walsh who is reading from her first-prize winning novella in the 2019 Award, Birds With Horse Hearts and Meg Pokrass, the judge of our 2017 and 2018 Awards.

Michael judged our 2019 Award and he thought the winning novellas were very impressive. You can read his judge's report here. And we're happy that Ad Hoc Fiction is publishing the three winning and the three commended novellas this year.
In our interview with him last year, we asked what he thought the main pitfalls in writing a novella-in-flash were and here he's updated his answer and given his top three tips after assessing manuscripts from the 2019 Award, which were often very good, but didn't quite work as a whole.

He says, overall the most common manuscript problems were as follows - 

(1) Lack of a Thread - Some manuscripts (including some with really outstanding individual flashes) just didn’t link up enough. As you write your novella, it’s worth continually thinking: what’s the thread, what’s the centre?

Ask yourself: 
(a)  Will it be clear whose story it is or who the central characters are? 
(b) If not, will it be clear what the central plot event is / events are? 
(c) If not, will it be clear to the reader what the setting / location is that links the material? 
(d) If not, will it be really, really clear to the reader which tightly focused, controlling theme or motif is filtering all the stories in your novella? 

If the answer is ‘no’ to all four questions, then it’s likely to mean you have a collection of flashes on your hands – more of a miscellany or story collection than a novella.    

(2) Ensemble Casts - It's important to maintain good control of your cast of characters. Having lots of different protagonists is risky, unless they’re linked by location, or a set of central, shared events, or a tightly focused theme. Ask yourself, what’s keeping this novella in balance and focus? Am I letting some characters dominate fleetingly then disappear? Will it be apparent who’s speaking or who an unnamed third person protagonist is in any given story? (At the very least, enough clues should accumulate in the various characterisations for the reader to realise in hindsight when they look back over a novella. A process of delayed revelation is perfectly fine.)  Also, if you have dozens of named secondary characters, have you obscured the sense of any centre to the novella? 

(3) Timelines – If your novella has a very varied or complex chronology, it can be difficult to get it right. You might need to look hard at your timeline to make sure it’s, in the end, not confusing or too convoluted to follow. This includes thinking carefully about any large or unexplained leaps in time, or any back and forth between multiple “eras” in your story that might be obscured from the reader’s understanding. One option is to include years / months / dates in the headings of your flashes, if it’s a really complex timeline, though this may not suit all novellas. Other devices include using different tenses, different points of view, or adopting other creative devices (such as italics vs. ordinary font) to help readers orient themselves between different “eras” within your novella. For example, Michelle Elvy’s coming-of-age story the everrumble mixes up its chronology into haphazard order but states the protagonist’s age with the title of most chapters, thereby offering the reader a foothold into the underlying sequence of things.

As a final piece of advice, do maintain your patience in the process of compiling your novella! It almost inevitably will feel a bit fragmented, and maybe even a little confusing, as you try to work out how to connect the individual flashes. You may have to write a lot of material that doesn’t actually fit the final manuscript.
Don’t lose your nerve in the face of all this. It’s part of the process, and what makes the novella-in-flash such a magical and rewarding thing to write, and for readers then to read.
Previously published examples from past years of the competition can give you ideas of what’s possible. But these published examples hide the messy processes of their own creation – there may be a long, ungainly “caterpillar” phase while a novella is developed. And you should also feel encouraged to create something entirely new, not previously attempted.
For writers, I’m convinced there really is nothing like writing a novella-in-flash, in terms of how fulfilling a challenge it is to take on and resolve. It’s a very very special form.

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Interview with Gaynor Jones, first-prize winner, June 2019 Award

We're very pleased to interview Gaynor Jones following her win in the June Award judged by Christopher Allen It's fascinating to hear Gaynor's methods of writing, how she can produce marvellous pieces like 'Cleft' in the spaces she finds in day to day life. After her win, we saw her tweet that she had entered the Bath Flash Fiction Award eight times previously without any luck and her description of her writing journey here shows how persistent she is as a writer. We're very much looking forward to the outcomes of the new writing project she is undertaking. It's bound to be adventurous. And do pay attention to her tip to be a 'flash rebel' when writing a micro for our Award. She suggests that you dispense with any rules and ask yourself the question 'Could anyone else have written this?' A very good piece of advice.

Interview with Jude

  • Can you tell us how your wonderful first prize winning story, 'Cleft' came into being? Did it go through many drafts before you were satisfied?

I wanted to write a new story for the Bath competition. I have this method where I clear my head and count to 10 and see where my mind takes me. This time the question popped up – what have I never written about before? The answer was a father and son relationship. I thought about my father and the dimple in his chin that my granddad had. My brother and I have it too but my daughter doesn’t. I started thinking about family lines and the overall idea spooled from there. I wrote Cleft very quickly but it went through 8 drafts. Initial drafts were more focused on the protagonist and his husband and had a bit of a cheesy ending. I cut the husband and tried to focus on the 2 main men and the baby. I had some phrases that I loved but they had to be chopped to fit the word count and I think the story is better for that sparseness.

  • You have had many successes in recent years after a gap from writing. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey and the awards you have received?

I loved writing at school but was put off at university by a negative comment from a creative writing tutor and didn’t write again until I was around 28 I think, though I am blurry with dates. I enrolled on an online course and was writing sort of comic, commercial fiction and had a few little publications here and there. My first published piece was a micro comedy about mistreating childhood pets. I am quite open talking about my mental health and unfortunately I developed Generalised Anxiety Disorder a few years into my writing journey. I deleted everything I’d written, threw away hard copies, tried to destroy any trace of my writing. It felt incredibly frightening to have my words and my name out there in public. Fast forward a few years and I had a two year old daughter and I had recovered well with therapy and I thought ‘what do I actually want to do with my life? I want to be a writer.’ I decided to really go for it, and I chose to avoid a pen name as I didn’t want my anxiety to ‘win’. Everything since then has been a pushback against those wasted years. It was the Comma Press course with Lara Williams that really spurred me on, I got so much out of it and Lara was really positive about my work, which encouraged me to carry on once the course finished. I entered the Mairtín Crawford because I like the look of the mentoring prize and I was thrilled to win, I will never forget that phone call – talking professionally on the phone while I was dancing around my bedroom. When I was named Northern Writer of the Year at the Northern Soul Awards last year I was completely gobsmacked. It was the most surreal moment of my writing life. I still have my application on file and it is hilarious, it’s like a sleep deprived comic ramble through my life and I am so grateful that the judges got my sense of humour and enjoyed the story I submitted.

  • I believe you are involved in an event at the Edinburgh Fringe. We’d love to hear more about this

One of the strangest things, to me, about my writing career is that I’ve come to love spoken word. It’s very freeing to perform and luckily in Manchester there are plenty of opportunities. I met Jane Claire Bradley of 'For Books’ Sake' when I took her 'Write Like A Grrl' course and she is the most incredible, supportive person. I adore her. She encouraged me to do an open mic practise at a social event and since then I’ve performed around Manchester numerous times and even headlined spoken word events. It’s a real privilege to be on the bill for 'That’s What She Said' at the Edinburgh Fringe and I cannot wait to perform and watch the other performers.

  • You have also been teaching flash fiction in your local area. What do you like about teaching the short-short form?

I love teaching in general, my background is in education in various forms so I am well used to delivering workshops. I like teaching flash fiction because, especially for new writers, it feels achievable. People can come to a two hour workshop with me and leave with a full first draft. I’m very into experimental forms and unusual flash so it’s great to see people’s reactions when they read these weird stories and realise that they can have a go. And I do encourage people to play with form in flash, I love the way flash has moved on in the last few years, there’s so much experimentation and innovation nowadays. We’re hearing so many new voices rather than it being a niche form. It’s a wonderful time to be involved in flash writing.

  • When and where do you write? And do you have a writing muse – pet, person, object, place?

I have no writing routine. I don’t write every day, I don’t even write every week. I write when ideas come, or I sit and force myself to write, it depends on my mood, my life, my health. Every day is different. I don’t have time or space for a muse! I use my bed or the dining room table and I write on an iPad which is on its way out and hurts my wrists. None of it is ideal. I cannot write when my 4 year old is present, that’s impossible. So it’s either when she’s at school in the afternoons once all the housework is done and the puppy is sorted, or it’s once she’s asleep and I’ve had a bit of time to relax and eat and watch telly. I know some people sacrifice these things to make time to write but I don’t want to. I like watching telly. I do take my writing seriously though, I take it very seriously and have ambitions but I also know how important wind down time is for me, I would snap without it. This is why I get so much done at workshops or retreats – I just turn off and power down, there’s no constant refrain of Mummy, Mummy, there’s no puppy barking at the pigeons in the garden. Silent writing time amongst adults is just utter bliss for me. Rare, but bliss. If people with young children can find time to write, then that’s great, but I won’t beat myself up about it. Someone once told me ‘Raymond Carver used to go and write in his car while his children were young’ and I politely said ‘oh right’ but in my head I was thinking ‘well I’m fairly certain Raymond Carver wasn’t breastfeeding a baby with silent reflux while battling post-natal depression for two years’. People can be so dismissive and there’s this myth that if you’re a writer you’ll write no matter what. Well I do my best to balance life, health, family and writing and I don’t always get it right but I think I’m doing okay.

  • Are you someone who likes to write from prompts, like words or images? Or do you get ideas from elsewhere.

I do quite like writing to prompts, yes. I would say around half of my ideas just appear organically as if from nowhere and the other half come from prompts. I have a secret method of creating original stories that I teach on my 'Go Weird or Go Home workshop' and I’ve had a lot of success with that. We are so lucky to have the Internet too, you can think of, say, an animal, and go online and find out mythology and facts that you never would have known then weave them into a story. Recently I was trying to find out about a school teacher of mine from the 1980s and stumbled upon minutes from a 1976 social sciences meeting and its fascinating, I’m definitely to go mix it into a story somewhere. Writing is difficult enough so if prompts work for you, use them, don’t make life any harder than it has to be.

  • Writing projects on the go? Anything you’d care to tell us about?

Oh gosh, the short story collection that has been on my bio for eons. I am writing it, honestly, I think I’ve got about 8 stories so far but it is a long slog with so little writing time. I love my stories – it’s important that someone does! But they are so so weird and so dark and just bizarre. It’s the kind of stuff that American writers do so well, but because I’m Northern and they have that Northern dialect and references running through them it’s sometimes like a surreal, twisted version of Coronation Street. I’m not sure who is going to buy it but I’m going to finish it. The other thing I have going on is a new, large, project that is quite different – quite literary, quite serious, very un-Gaynorlike. I think it will surprise people. I don’t want to say too much about it as when it’s complete I’m hoping to enter it in a few competitions so I’ll preserve the mystery and anonymity.

  • Any tips for our Award entrants on writing a micro of 300 words or less?

I wouldn’t listen to me because I’m a bit of a flash rebel. I don’t ascribe to the notion that flash has to have forward motion, has to have a clear narrative, has to have anything. As long as the word count is right, give me lists, give me prose poetry, give me vignettes, give me half scripts half spells, give me whatever words you want to write. I love it when people are free in their writing and play. Somewhat controversially, I don’t need writers to justify these creative choices in anyway – I like experimentation for experimentation’s sake, I like weirdness for weirdness’ sake. It’s what I enjoy reading and writing.

Personally, I do like flash to have some emotional impact but another reader will tell you something else is just as important to them. My only bit of flash writing advice is: could anyone else have written this? Or could only you have written it? Answer that question honestly and ditch anything in the former category.

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Award Round-up June 2019

Thank you to everyone from around the world who entered the June Award. Our fourth 'Last Minute Club' badge was collected as usual by a large number of intrepid entrants and we ended up with 1062 entries this time. We really do appreciate you all so much for entering the Award. Thirty-six countries were represented.

Australia, Belgium, Bermuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Cook Islands, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States

Our big thanks to Judge Christopher Allen for his work in judging and writing his report with his very useful comments on all the stories and for his support and sharing of the Award on social media. Christopher announced the results live at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol at the same time as the results were posted online and it was all very exciting. This summer, Gaynor Jones from the UK won first prize, Anita Arlov from New Zealand won second prize, Stephanie Hutton from the UK won third prize, Hilary Dean from Canada was commended and Tim Craig from the UK was commended. Tim Craig was actually attending the Festival and read his story, The Falling Silent for us. And Christopher Allen read Cleft by our winner, Gaynor Jones. It was great to hear these pieces and also lovely to have a New Zealand writer Anita Arlov as one of the winners as she is known by festival presenters from New Zealand, Michelle Elvy and Nod Ghosh.

Many of the authors of the fifty longlisted stories have accepted publication and we are looking forward to reading those and the shortlisted and winning pieces in our end-of-year anthology which will be published by Ad Hoc Fiction in digital and paperback versions and sold online at the Ad Hoc Fiction Bookshop. All published authors receive a free copy of the anthology. The 13th Award is open now and closes in mid October. Results will be out at the end of October. Early bird entrants can buy reduced cost entries until mid-August. And anyone winning our free weekly contest run by Ad Hoc Fiction gets a free entry to the Award. This time the Award is judged by writer, editor and teacher Nancy Stohlman. Read all about her and what she is looking for in Jude's interview with her.

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Out Now! ‘Birds With Horse Hearts’, ‘Homing’ and ‘The Roster’ – three winning novellas-in-flash

We launched three of the winning novellas-in-flash at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol 28th-30th June. Birds with Horse Hearts by Eleanor Walsh Homing By Johanna Robinson and The Roster by Debra A Daniel. You can now buy all these marvellous novellas in paperback from the Ad Hoc Fiction Bookshop. Just click on the book titles linked above to go straight to the correct bookshop page.

We were delighted that the first prize winner Eleanor Walsh and Runner-Up Johanna Robinson were able to attend the festival to read extracts from, and talk about their novellas. The 2019 judge, Michael Loveday chaired the panel which included Charmaine Wilkerson, who won the 2017 Award with her novella in flash How To Make A Window Snake and and Meg Pokrass, who judged the 2017 Award and whose novella Here Where We Live, is included in the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to writing a novella-in-flash. It was very interesting to hear from all these writers about the form.

Debra Daniel lives in the US, and wasn't able to attend the Festival, but all books were available in our festival bookshop and created much interest. It is so exciting to see three new examples of this fast developing genre. They are all brilliant reads and have had much advanced praise.

Birds With Horse Hearts takes us to the lowlands of contemporary Nepal and "explores the entangled lives of three women as they navigate grief, freedom and their own journeys to find people to call family and places to call home." Judge Michael Loveday said Homing, "an historical fiction encompassing the Second World War and telling the story of a Norwegian family from 1933 to 1970 has more epic sweep than many novels", and commented that The Roster, an "ensemble cast" novella, a superbly individualised, vivid, inventive and memorable sequence of stories about a teacher's pupils at a school is a story of immense charm with real emotional substance."

The 2020 Novella in Flash Award, judged again this time by Michael Loveday is now open for entries and closes January 12th 2020.

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Nancy Stohlman Flash Fiction Award Judge July 2019 – October 2019

Nancy Stohlman is the author of Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (finalist for a Colorado Book Award), The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories, the flash novels The Monster Opera and Searching for Suzi, and three anthologies of flash fiction including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape She is the creator and curator of The Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series, the creator of FlashNano in November, and her work has been published in the W.W. Norton anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and will be included in the 2019 Best Small Fictions. She lives in Denver and teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder as well as co-facilitates flash fiction retreats around the world. Find out more at www.nancystohlman.com

We sent Nancy these questions while she was at the end of her writing sabbaticaL. And since then we've seen her at the Flash Fiction Festival, 28-30 June, in Bristol, teaching and performing her flash. She ran some great workshops on performing work and we got to hear her read and saw her in a special video created by our last judge Christopher Allen and his husband. So much fun!

  • You have recently been on a writing sabbatical for three weeks. Can you let us know how it went? What was the most worthwhile thing about deciding to take some time out in this way? And has the time resulted in another collection ready to go?.

It was amazing (actually I’m in my final days right now). First of all I can’t remember being alone for 3 weeks—maybe ever. Really alone. So I went through a lot of creative levels—excitement, possibility, self-doubt, fear, breakdown, breakthrough, acceptance, and lots and lots of gratitude. I think my biggest discovery is how essential boredom is to creativity. I just wrote a whole essay about Holy Boredom here

But staying in the same place for a long time is different than the usual travel, where we are rushing past things and quickly taking pictures, barely skimming the surface. I recognize the townspeople now, they recognize me. We wave like friends passing on the street. I can spot the new crop of tourists, fleshy and pink and overeager. I’ve been here so long I know who the town crazies are, know that they are harmless. The waiter asks: how is your book, you find inspiration yet? Just today he brought me my coffee exactly how I like it before I even ordered. When I needed a new snorkel the shopkeeper takes it out of the wrapping—you pay me tomorrow he says.
Are you sure?
Did you come here to steal? You pay me tomorrow.
It feels like acceptance.

New manuscript? Let’s hope so…I’m leaving with a nearly completed draft of…something. Time will tell.

  • Can you tell us more about your collection Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (which was recently a finalist in the literary section of the prestigious Colorado Book Award) and how it came about?

Yes, another crazy impulse that turned into something. As usual I didn’t set out to write a book, I just started writing the pieces as individuals and then collaging them and then realized that indeed I was writing a bigger story. Many of the pieces in Madam Velvet are my shortest ever—tiny stories, micros. And they started to play together and create a cabaret of their own, a variety show with an impulse running from beginning to end. A traveling freak show on the page.

I often use theatrics as a framework for my writing. I wrote another flash novel (published back in 2013) called The Monster Opera, where the story was an opera within an opera. Super weird. I’ve actually performed both Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities and The Monster Opera as full shows with full casts and original music composed by Nick Busheff. You can see clips from both these on the links.

And the Colorado Book Award—yes! I was especially excited because of course there was no flash fiction category so I submitted the book as a short story collection, which isn’t exactly right but close enough. Then I was told that all the short story entries were going to be combined with literary fiction and I thought: Well shit. Now I have no chance! So to have this book, this very strange, out of the box book, be a finalist in literary fiction, was a double and triple win for me and I feel for flash fiction in general.

  • I recently attended a writing retreat you led with Kathy Fish in Italy and saw you perform some of the pieces from this collection wonderfully. Reading a story outloud is always good for revision purposes, and do you think performing it as if to an audience might help a writer learn more about it?

We loved having you! And thank you — you not only got to see me perform but you got to see me accompanied by Nick, so that was an extra treat. And yes, because I have a performance background — I’ve been on various stages, singing, acting, etc—since I was 10 — it naturally bleeds into my work as a writer. I think it lends a certain ear for musicality, dialogue and timing.

Can we learn how to edit our work through reading to an audience? Definitely. Many times I’ve been reading something to an audience and instinctively know during the reading that a sentence is going on too long, or I need to change a word. And I’ll do that on the fly. Then, as soon as the reading is over I’ll make those same changes on the page. Pay attention to the audience’s cues: Where they laugh. If they didn’t clap at the end because they didn’t know it was over. Etc.

In 2013 I started the Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Seriess in Denver (and helped facilitate the NYC spinoff in 2016 with Paul Beckman). One of my goals with that series, besides creating a dedicated showcase for flash fiction, was to help writers get better at reading their work. It’s not something that comes easily to a lot of people. But it’s so important.

  • You have been teaching flash for many years. Can you tell us more about your current online workshops and how writers may join them?

I’ve been teaching flash fiction since 2009 and teaching online flash workshops since 2012, and in that time there have been so many evolutions! In some of my earliest (online) classes we actually had telephone conference calls (!), which of course no longer worked once the students became international.

My online offerings for the summer are just about full. I’m about to launch a new Flash Novel class in July—it’s full with a waiting list we we’ll see how it goes. The best chance to work with me this summer is during my weekend workshop “Through the Back Door: Absurdism as a Way to Truth” hosted by Bending Genres August 23-25.

Monthly Online Workshops

I also have a Writing Flash Fiction self-paced generative workshop that has rolling registration—it includes 5 self-paced lessons with accompanying prompts, readings, and videos.It’s a great starter to flash and/or a jump start if you are feeling in a rut and want to shake up your creativity. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find it. It’s a good introduction to me as well. And then there are always the in-person workshops—I’ll be teaching with Kathy (Fish) and Randall Brown in Colorado this August. Unfortunately I’m beholden to the university schedule so I load up my classes during the summer and winter, mostly. But look for me to run FlashNano again in November (8th year!) and I’ll be offering a new crop of classes in the winter break Dec/Jan.

  • What do you like about teaching flash fiction?

Well, and I’m not alone in this, as a teacher it’s extremely helpful to guide students through entire drafts from beginning to end, something that’s tough with long works. And of course the best is the a-ha! Whether it’s the a-ha! of a new idea brought to fruition or the a-ha! of finally unlocking the key to a story that hasn’t worked yet (I’m crazy about revision). The great thing about teaching for so long is I have worked with writers who were new to flash fiction once, and then over the years I have watched them publish, then win awards, then publish books, then have those books win awards! It’s super rewarding.

But mostly I love being on the front lines of the flash fiction movement, seeing how this tiny little genre is changing all of literature, changing how we tell stories.

  • What sort of micros would you love to see among the entries?

That’s hard to say because I’ll just know it when I see it. I’ll tell you want I don’t want to see: stories that are trying too hard. Trying too hard to be: cute, clever, weird, poignant, traumatic, intense, etc. I can always see through that.

Actually, you know what I really want to see? The story that arrived for you seemingly out of the blue, the one you drafted in just 15 minutes because it just poured out of you, almost effortlessly, almost as if you weren’t the one writing it. That magical gift-from-the-muse story. Those are my favorite because they feel like they spring from a deep well of creativity that isn’t always easy to tap.

  • A tip for a writer finessing a micro of three hundred words or under?

I hesitate to give absolutes, like “don’t try to do too much in a micro”, because as soon as I say that then someone writes a story that does “too much” and it’s brilliant and it works perfectly. So in the end, write what wants to be written (see gift-from-the-muse story above). The story that chooses you as a midwife, not the other way around.

But my very favourite tip for editing in general is to cut the story in half. Then cut it in half again. I was first inspired to do this exercise by Bruce Taylor, and since then I have had many students do it and have done it myself many times. That doesn’t mean that either of the “cut” version are THE final version; the final version might be somewhere in the middle. But forcing yourself to make the hard decisions of what stays and what goes when you cut in half is extremely revealing. It’s an excellent way to get honest with ourselves.

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Judge’s Report


Choosing 20 stories for the shortlist has been a challenge. My criteria for inclusion, apart from solid and compressed writing, were poignancy and heart. Does this narrative capture the depth of a moment in a way that feels honest and new? Is this narrative emotionally affecting? Does this story have something to say, something the world needs to hear? I think each story on the shortlist fulfils these criteria, each in its way. 

There’s humor and pathos in these stories, conventional plots alongside innovative structures. A few stories toe the boundary between prose and poetry. There are personal stories and those concerning larger cultural themes. While I didn’t consciously compile such a balanced list, I’m pleased it turned out that way. I loved the humorous voice in ‘The Layer Chromatography Day’ but also the disturbing situations in ‘Black Sky’ and  ‘Armstrong’s Mixture’. The urgent rhythms in ‘Asomnia’ and ‘Shoes and Trews and Shell Dust’ are impressive. ‘Kit Carson’ and ‘Rolling Six Feet Apart’ use repetition deftly. I found something to love in all the shortlisted stories. 

Flash fiction is a merciless form. Its brevity invites multiple readings. A piece of flash fiction might be read 10 or 20 times by the judge of a competition. Stories either get better and better with each reading, or their imperfections start showing. My top five stories all accomplished something extraordinary: they all got better and better. 

First Place -- ‘Cleft’

‘Cleft’ relates the history of the narrator, from his childhood to his current relationship with his adopted son, but it also implies the history of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. The writer employs fragmented and compressed syntax to effect economy and urgency in a micro that suggests eight distinct scenes. And there is a lot of heart. I’ve chosen this story because I feel it has done the most with the word count. ‘Cleft’ is a story that needs to be told, and the writer has done it amazingly well.

Second Place -- ‘a god and his famous digging stick dug this’

The language in this story is daring and dense. ‘a god and his famous digging stick dug this’ is a intricate example of stream-of-consciousness writing that unfolds--at least for this reader--only after several readings. It wends through the depths of the moment rather than following a conventionally linear plot, while claiming the freedom to associate unexpected sensations and impressions with this moment of sexual discovery.

Third Place --  ‘Cosmina Counts’

This is another story that relates the history of its main character innovatively and endearingly. Why does Cosmina need to measure the room? I keep asking myself this question. Does she need to know how much of the world is hers? Does she need to know if she’s paying too much for the room? This story poses more questions than it answers. She measures the room in pas mic (small steps) just as she measures her life. ‘Cosmina Counts’ is a memorable, tragic story. 

Commended -- ‘The Falling Silent’

I have to admit that I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching the context of this story. Even without knowing the cultural background, I had a sense of the communal and senseless call to duty that informs this story and removes the music for these characters’ lives. 

Commended -- ‘Arts and Crafts’

Jocelyn may indeed be a danger to herself and others, but she is also endearing, smart and memorable. And Carl may just be doing his job. This story deftly portrays the unfairness of mental illness while creating a complex, layered character in just a few words.

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Gaynor Jones
June 2019 First Prize

Cleft

by Gaynor Jones

 

noun

a fissure or split

indentation in the middle of a person’s chin

a deep division

Cleft. As belonging to me, my father, his father before him, their fathers before them. Runs way back in our men, as my father used to tell me while he shaved.

Boy, you could find this cleft of ours nuzzled next to the stock of a Henry rifle, or buried deep between the long legs of a good time girl in an old time saloon. You’ll see.

My father was proud. That dent in his skull meant something to him, though he had no hand in its making. Soon as I was old enough to shave myself - and all that came with it - he would come for me. Head tilted up. Chin jutting out.

Him: Eyes like tar and a hand rubbing the indent at the bottom of his drawn face.

Me: In for some shit.

He would grab me, in that convenient little nook that perfectly fit his thumb and forefinger. Force me towards whatever he needed me to see.

Exhibit A: magazines he’d found under my mattress

Exhibit B: a journal entry I hadn’t torn up enough before burying in the trash.

Exhibits C through Z: scripture.

Then: Firm hands gripping my chin, strong arms turning me.

Now: Loose flesh, weak arms, still trying to turn me.

‘What you two do in your bedroom is one thing, boy, but to bring a child into that. A child.’

My son’s face is perfect. Moon-round. I bounce him on my knee, or pat him after his milk and he looks up at me and I look down at him and it is love. While we play, his small hands reach up to my chin, and vanish in the hairs of my beard.

About the Author

Gaynor Jones is an award winning short fiction writer based in Manchester. She won the 2018 Mairtín Crawford Award and was named Northern Writer of the Year at the 2018 Northern Soul Awards. She runs the Story For Daniel competition to raise awareness of blood stem cell donation and childhood cancer support. www.jonzeywriter.com

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