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.