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Pushing the boundaries of storytelling: An Interview with Sophie van Llewyn

Welcome to the fifth 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 this year's guest anthology editor, Sophie van Llewyn, about writing, history, novellas-in-flash, and what she'd like to see in 2020 NFFD anthology submissions....

Diane: Together with Ingrid Jendrzejewski, you are editing this year’s National Flash Fiction Day anthology. Can you tell me what made you choose the theme of ‘family’ and if there is anything you are hoping to see in the stories submitted?

SvL: When Ingrid told me we should consider possible themes, I couldn’t stop thinking that we all relate to family, in one way or another. Family shapes us by its mere existence — or by its absence.

And whether it’s the way we relate to our mother or father, or to our children, or to the choice of not having children; to members of the more distant family that have changed us; whether it’s a self-made family of close-knit friends, this set of complex relationships defines our private lives. How we see family defines different cultures, and lifestyles.

So I’d like to see diverse approaches, and imaginative takes on the theme. Surprise me!

Diane: Your novella-in-flash Bottled Goods was long-listed for The Woman’s Prize for Fiction in 2019. It is wonderful to see the novella-in-flash come to the attention of a wider audience. What was it about writing in the form that attracted you to it?

SvL: Its flexibility and its playfulness. The fact that it pushes the boundaries of storytelling, and that the writer can experiment with the spaces she/he leaves between the pieces of the story arc.

Diane: The idea of a novella-in-flash is that each story within it should be able to stand alone. Do you have a favourite flash in Bottled Goods?

SvL: I do love ‘Epicentre’ most, one of the flashes towards the end of the book. I’ll try to talk about it with as little spoilers as possible, so I’ll say this much: it shows the Romanian Revolution, the bloodiest of all the revolutions of 1989, and how Alina perceives it. For me, it was unendingly moving to write. I owe so much to those people who went out in the streets and died in December 1989. I owe them my freedom. Who I have become. Where I am right now.

Diane: I understand that you are in the process of writing a novel. Are you able to tell us a little about it or is it top secret?

SvL: No secret at all! I’m currently working again on my novel set during WW2, at Bletchley Park. It’s about young women finding their own footing, and the power of sisterhood. I’m also currently in the process of turning it into a screenplay — and this has helped me so much reorder many of my thoughts about the book, that I simply had to translate my new findings into a new bout of editing.

Diane: Are there any flash writers who you would say have influenced you more than others or any that you particularly admire?

SvL: I have to say that I have learned something from every single piece of flash fiction I’ve ever read. As I first discovered the form, I was endlessly curious about what it can do, and completely awed by flash fiction writers, and their different approaches. I don’t want to start listing names, because I would need pages to quote all the writers I love and admire, and I’d hate to leave even a single person out!

However, I will say this: there are two persons who shaped me as a writer more than anyone else, and I’m endlessly grateful for their kindness, support, keen editorial eye, shoulders to cry on, abilities as motivational coaches, and advisers extraordinaire in the world of publishing. Not to forget that they’re extremely talented writers, and that I’ve learned from their craft, and admired their work so much over the years. They’re my critique partners, Christina Dalcher and Stephanie Hutton.

Photograph of Sophie van Llewyn

Sophie van Llewyn is an anaesthesiologist turned mother and writer. Her novella-in-flash Bottled Goods has been longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019 and for the Republic of Consciousness Prize. She's born in Romania, but currently lives in Germany. You can find her online at www.sophievanllewyn.com or on Twitter @sophie_van_l.

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.  

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