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Welcome to the third in a series of interviews with this year's National Flash Fiction Day anthology editors and microfiction competition judges! This week, Diane Simmons chats with one of this year's microfiction competition judges, Rob Walton, about death, love, infidelity and writing, not to mention what he's looking for when judging our micro competition...

 

Diane: You won the National Flash Fiction Day micro competition in 2015 with your story Fly. Since then you’ve been a judge for a few NFFD micro competitions and I wondered if there are any themes that you see cropping up year after year?

Rob: Death. Love. Infidelity. In some of the competitions I’ve judged, domestic violence has been a recurring theme. Obviously an incredibly sensitive issue which has been handled in many ways but, sadly, rarely in a way which stops you in your tracks or makes you think or feel in any way differently about the subject. In a competition which attracts so many entries, there are bound to be some where people are working through things. Clearly this is massively important, but it doesn’t always lead to the best flashes.

Diane:  Do you only write flash or are there any other forms that you enjoy writing?

Rob: I began by writing short stories, and then moved to flash and then to poetry. I now write mostly poetry and flash, but sometimes other things emerge which are happily without labels. I like things which are hard to pin down. When things occur to me, it’s usually quite clearly as the beginning of a specific form, but not always. I have also written work which has been unsuccessful in one form, but then worked when I’ve tweaked it into another. I have an ongoing battle with script which I think I should be able to write, but it doesn’t quite happen. I also have a page or two in most of my notebooks which are essentially jokes which never see the light of day. Let us gather together and give thanks.

Diane: How important do you think social media is for writers?

Rob: I’m never quite sure. It obviously works for a lot of people, but it’s also very crowded and it can be hard for some great voices to be heard in the middle of all the uninspiring noise. I use twitter, instagram and my personal facebook page to mention publication successes. I tend to avoid mentioning the rejections, and concentrate on blowing my own trumpet, hoping I can one day put ‘Scunthorpe’s Biggest Bighead’ on my twitter profile. I hope people take it as read that each acceptance sits on a big pile of “No, Not on your Nellie”. Curiously (or not), I do appreciate it when other people post about their non-acceptances/rejections/insert your own. I particularly love it when they’re specific. It can be very reassuring when you know writers you like and respect have also had a No Thank You/Bugger Off/You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me!/Do You Want A Fight? from a particular publication.

Diane: Judges often say that there are not enough funny stories submitted to competitions. Has that been your experience?

Rob: Yes, definitely, and it’s something I always hope to find. In submission opportunities like NFFD’s micro competition there will be a few, but rarely any that make me laugh. I often find they try too hard and/or rely on a punchline which you can see a mile off.

Diane: Do you set yourself a schedule for writing?

Rob: I usually work part-time, teaching in a primary school on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. This should mean that I spend those other four days doing more writing, but it doesn’t always work out like that. I’m very motivated by deadlines and once in a while they force a schedule on me. I have no problem with ideas and sometimes think it would be good to have fewer so I could spend more of my disorganised not-really-a-schedule on the ones I’ve already had. I would pay good money for Writers’ Ideas Block. And up to thirty pence for a loaf of bread.

 

Rob Walton grew up in Scunthorpe, and now lives in Whitley Bay.  His short fiction and poetry for adults and children appears in various magazines and anthologies.  His flashes have appeared in Blue Fifth Review, 101 words (US), Flash Frontier (NZ), Love Bites (Dostoyevsky Wannabe), Port (Dunlin Press), Flash, I love You! (Paper Swans), Story Cities (Arachne Press), Ham, Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Cabinet of Heed, Number Eleven, National Flash Fiction Day anthologies, Bangor Literary Journal, Northern Voices, Popshot, Pygmy Giant, Reflex, Spelk, Words for the Wild and others.  He has also written for performance and collated the text for the New Hartley Memorial Pathway.  His words have appeared in shop windows and Scunthorpe United’s matchday magazine.  He is a past winner of the UK’s National Flash Fiction Day micro-fiction competition.

 

SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW OPEN for this year's National Flash Fiction Day Anthology and Micro Fiction Competition. Submissions close on 15th February 2020. For more information, please visit our Anthology and Competition pages.  

Welcome to the second in a series of interviews with this year's National Flash Fiction Day anthology editors and microfiction competition judges! This week, Diane Simmons chats with one of this year's microfiction competition judges, FJ Morris, about her collection, writing habits and social media, as well as what she's looking for when judging our micro competition...

Diane: Your collection This is (not about) David Bowie was published in 2018 by Retreat West. Could you tell us where the idea for the collection came from?

FJ: I had wanted to put together a collection for a while, but every theme or idea I had fell short. The ideas dried up. But then Bowie died and it set off a chain reaction. It was like watching an explosion. A supernova. A massive star had collapsed at the end of its life, and it sent out these ripples, this burst of energy. His impact on people spilled out. He was the first record my mum had ever bought, but my dad couldn’t stand him. People were crying for him, writing about him and what he meant to them. David Bowie was more than a person. He was a feeling. He was an idea. He allowed people to express themselves, to be experimental. He embodied everything I wanted to do with my writing. So that’s when the lightning struck. The words started flowing, and they didn’t stop.

Diane: You have lived most of your life in Bristol. Do you think the city has shaped what you write about or how you write?

FJ: I’ve spent my whole life hiding my Bristolian accent. I can’t say ‘burger’ in any respectable way. But now I’ve moved to Oxford I feel more Bristolian than I ever did living there, and more attached to it as part of my identity. I’ve been blind to how much my writing was held together by it. There are characters with Bristolian accents, school day memories in my collection, but I grew up in a very different Bristol than the one people think of now, the dynamic, eccentric metropolis. I grew up in an old mining village near Fishponds called Mangotsfield where my Mum grew up. People didn’t really read. And there were so many reasons for that (which if you get me a pint – I can go on about for hours). A big part of me writes for them.

Diane: On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?

FJ: I don’t have a typical day. Life has been throwing me around A LOT. At the beginning of the year, I was having to fit it around a job. But since May, I was lucky enough to have been given the chance to write for a year. For a month or two, I was writing five days a week but with a break on Wednesday and Saturday. I would write in the mornings and edit a different project in the afternoon. But then I had to move to Oxford, and I couldn’t keep it up. So after a month of NOT writing, I’m back at it.

Diane: You are one of the judges for this year’s NFFD micro competition. Could you tell us what’s important to you in a micro fiction?

FJ: Truth. Something that resonates. As you’ll see from my own writing, I have a tendency for enjoying the absurd, a bit of magic. But not just for the sake of it. There has to be good cause for it. I find that surrealism has a way of expressing truth better than realism sometimes.

I think it’s only right to warn people that I have personal aversion to anything that isolates people from a story or reading in general – like using Latin, or words that people have to look up, or even experiences to some extent. But I am always excited when I see something that experiments, breaking the rules to convey something powerful.

Diane: Do you think it’s important for a writer today to engage with social media?

FJ: It’s really important for writers to engage with people, but there are many ways to do that. Social media is one. It suits dressing-gown-wearing hermits like me really well and it connected me to other supportive writers, which has been great. But even social media has a way of shutting me down after a while too. I was marked ‘fragile’ since I was a kid and so the intrusion of bad news can get a bit much. So it’s good to know yourself, and what is good for you.

It also takes a fair bit of time, investment and creativity to connect with people well. I used to tweet and post for a job, so I was a bit lame at doing my own personal accounts. That’ll probably change now I have more time and energy. But if there’s anything I would say about social media it’s this: write something that’s worth tweeting about first. My dream is to write something where other people will do the social media for me. That’s my goal. How amazing would that be!

 

FJ Morris is a proud Bristolian and award-winning author. Her collection ‘This is (not about) David Bowie’ was published by Retreat West in November 2018 and received a special mention in the Saboteur Awards for Best Short Story Collection in 2019. She’s been published in numerous publications in the UK and internationally, and shortlisted for a variety of awards. Find out more at www.freyajmorris.com.

You can buy This is (not about) David Bowie online for £6.99.

SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW OPEN for this year's National Flash Fiction Day Anthology and Micro Fiction Competition. Submissions close on 15th February 2020. For more information, please visit our Anthology and Competition pages.  

Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with this year's National Flash Fiction Day anthology editors and microfiction competition judges! This week, Diane Simmons chats with one of this year's microfiction competition judges, Anne Summerfield, about her writing, teaching and process, as well as what she's looking for when judging our micro competition...

Diane: You are one of the four judges for this year’s National Flash Fiction Day micro competition. Is there anything you are particularly looking for in a micro? Or think people should perhaps avoid?

Anne: I’d love to find something fresh and exciting in subject matter, language or form. Surprise me! My favourite micros often include precise, sensory details and feel like glimpses of fully developed worlds. I especially like stories which imply rather than show or tell – for me that is a characteristic of flash.

I’m not a fan of twist in the tail endings and prefer an ending that has some foreshadowing or at least feels like it belongs. Hard to describe and even harder to do! Also I’d prefer not to read tales full of misogyny or gratuitous violence.

Diane: You have been a tutor for The Open University and taught creative writing at a local arts centre. Is teaching something you enjoy?

Anne: I love the facilitating, coaching and encouraging parts of teaching. It is wonderful to see the spark of an idea catching hold when running workshops (all those heads down and pens moving!) and also to help people develop confidence in their work. I enjoy those aspects of teaching very much. Marking Open University assignments to tight deadlines was rather less fun, especially when the allocated time for marking included Christmas and New Year!

Diane: Do you have a favourite part of the writing process?

Anne: I love doing research, which is dangerous because it’s so easy to spend far too much time researching, say, Victorian underwear only to find that my character is too poor to have any. I’ve had to train myself to fact check after writing some kind of rough and ready draft rather than start with a heap of reference books or Google. I also love editing, and again have to keep myself in check so that I don’t start editing too soon and waste loads of time fixing paragraphs that come out next draft.

Diane: I particularly admire your story 'Afterwards' published in Things Left and Found by the Side of the Road. Do you draw from your own life much when you are writing?

Anne: Thank you for saying you admire that story, Diane. It was very emotional to write and one of the most autobiographical things I’ve written, though there are aspects of it which are pure fiction. I don’t think I’d ever have written it without Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash. The speed of Kathy’s course means having very little time to research or doing the thinking necessary to make things up. And the way Kathy runs the workshop means it provides a nurturing and supportive space. I’d recommend Fast Flash to anyone who wants to develop their flash fiction.

To answer the question, it depends very much on the individual story how much I draw from my own life. Some stories start from a personal experience or something I’ve been told or overheard but others seem to arrive from a different place – out of the ether? I have another story in Things Left and Found by the Side of the Road called 'Mr Ono Makes Bonseki' which was entirely written from research and has nothing from my life at all.

Diane: If you could be the author of any flash fiction ever written, which flash would you choose?

Anne: Just one? There are so many flashes I admire and would love to have written myself! Okay, I’m going to choose one of the first very short stories I loved and which I’ve continued to love ever since. It was written before the term flash fiction came into being but is 650 words long so I think it counts! The story is 'Girl' by Jamaica Kincaid, which is online here at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1978/06/26/girl and anthologised widely.

Anne Summerfield gave up working as a technical writer in the computer industry to study for an MA in Modern Fiction at Exeter University. She taught Creative Writing at a local arts centre and for the Open University. Last century she won an Asham Award and a Jerwood/Arvon New Writing bursary and had stories in Virago and Serpent’s Tail anthologies and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. More recently she’s mainly written flash fiction with work published by Jellyfish Review, New Flash Fiction Review, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine, Bending Genres, Hobart and Flash Frontier among other places. She’s had flash included in Nothing Is As It Was (Retreat West), the three most recent National Flash Fiction Day anthologies (Sleep is a Beautiful Colour, Ripening and As We Pass Through) and short and longlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and published in Things Left and Found by the Side of the Road (Ad Hoc). She’s been a first reader for the Brighton Prize and The Nottingham Review. She tweets infrequently as @summerwriter.

SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW OPEN for this year's National Flash Fiction Day Anthology and Micro Fiction Competition. Submissions close on 15th February 2020. For more information, please visit our Anthology and Competition pages.