Thank you for the invitation to talk about reading and writing. The flash fiction community in general is incredibly dynamic and encouraging, and ZeroFlash is no exception. Your dedication to promoting and supporting creativity is an inspiration
What got you interested in writing?
Writing is something I’ve always done, but up until recently it was only on the periphery, something I’d pick up if I had the time in a vague ‘one day I’ll write a book’ kind of way. And I did start a few novels over the years, but always gave up after a few disconnected scenes to start something else. A fantasy epic. A historical romance. A middle grade adventure. A literary masterpiece (we all have one in us, right?).
The turning point for me was, ironically, the worst rejection I’ve ever had, and, hopefully, will ever have.
I’ve read Terry Pratchett since I was a young teenager, starting with the Colour of Magic and working my way up. After he passed away in 2015 from early-onset Alzheimer’s, I spotted a call for a collection of Pratchett-inspired short stories around the theme of ‘memory’. I went to town on this (my first ever submission) and made it through to the anthology. I even signed a contract.
It was all going so well until they read my final submission and threw me out. Needless to say, I was crushed. And appalled and angry and depressed and upset. But in some weird, twisted way it gave me the kick up the trousers that I needed. I felt that I had stories to tell, and that maybe, just maybe, people might want to read them.
Then I came across flash fiction. It was a revelation. I hadn’t realised it until that moment that I’d been writing in a similar form for years. I submitted my first ever flash in April 2016, The Flying Scotsman, which failed miserably, but I haven’t looked back since.
What are your happiest memories in your writing career?
I’ve only been submitting flash for the past 18 months, so I’m hesitant to describe writing as my career. Perhaps vocation is more accurate, in the true sense of the word: ‘to do what we are called to do’.
I’m proud of all my publications, but the one that sticks out in my mind is one of my earliest achievements: winning second prize in the Bath Flash Fiction Award for my piece The Perfect Fall.
This prize also marked my first appearance in a printed anthology, so I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the judge (Robert Vaughan) and the Bath team (directed by Jude Higgins), for giving their time so generously to support and celebrate aspiring writers, and for introducing me to flash as a creative form of expression.
How do you handle success and failure?
I’ve heard it said many times that success is easy, that rejection is the difficult part. I take a different view. I get just as stressed out, perhaps even more so, with an acceptance as I do with a rejection. Is the work the best it could be? Should I change a word here, add a comma there? Is this image relevant, or a tired cliché? Have I slipped out of tense? Too many similes? Passive voice? You get the idea. So now, instead of looking backwards, I concentrate on new ideas or works in progress.
I read recently that perfection kills creativity, which I think is right, so I try not to hold on to pieces too long, despite my insecurities. Write and rewrite. Strip it down to reveal the heart of the story. Read it aloud. Ask for a peer review if you have the contacts. Make the edits. Then let it go and move on.
Rejections are disappointing, of course, but I don’t get too hung up about them these days. There could be any number of reasons why your piece didn’t make the cut, so it’s pointless dwelling on something you can’t change.
Are you a traditionalist or a digital? (paper or eBook)
I must admit, since I picked up a Kindle a few years ago, I tend more towards the digital. There are disadvantages to this. Books become disposable. If you don’t like the free sample, try another one. Bored at 20%? Delete it. I guess you could equate this to browsing in your local bookstore, but it feels less personal, more clinical. All text is the same shape and size, all pages the same colour. eBooks sterilise the experience somewhat. But at least you can fit them in your suitcase.
I do still buy paper books, but only as collectable items—limited edition slipcases, or specially released hardbacks, or signed copies. A tribute to those rare books that captivate you and affect you and make you wish you had written them.
What is your advice to young and new writers?
“If you trust in yourself…and believe in your dreams…and follow your star…you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.” You guessed it—Terry Pratchett (The Wee Free Men).
Also, become part of the community through social media and online workshops. Celebrate others’ successes. There are some unbelievably talented and inspirational writers out there. Read them. Learn from them. They’re the future superstars of the flash world.
And don’t judge yourself on acceptance or rejection rates. It’s easy to get bogged down in a submission frenzy. Publication is just an outlet for what you do, and of course it’s a great feeling when somebody connects with your work and wants to share it, but that doesn’t define you.
If you’re a writer, keep writing. It’s as simple as that.
If you have a publication or promotion – tell us.
To Carry Her Home, Bath Flash Fiction: Volume One
Sleep is a Beautiful Colour, National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2017