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We're currently open for submissions for our anthology and micro fiction competition! To celebrate, we've conducted a series of interviews with our anthology editors and competition judges. This week, we conclude with an interview from our artist-in-residence, Jeanette SheppardDiane Simmons speaks to Jeanette about flash fiction, sketching, and where she draws inspiration from...

Diane: As well as being a talented artist, you also write flash fiction, with numerous publications including two NFFD anthologies. Which came first, writing or sketching? Or have you always done both?

Jeanette: Thank you for saying that about my writing and my sketches, Diane. I’d also like to say how thrilled I am to be Artist in Residence for NFFD. The straightforward answer to your question is that the writing came before the on-location sketching, but in a sense they happened at the same time. I enjoyed both drawing and writing as a child, although I only ever copied from drawings in books which is quite a different experience altogether to on-location sketching and I only wrote one story that I can remember. I drew on and off from photographs until my early twenties. I began writing in my early forties. I used to work in TV Drama production so writing scripts felt like the natural place to start, but I was increasingly drawn to prose and then wrote a novel while studying for an MA in Creative Writing. When I discovered flash fiction via the first National Flash Fiction Day in 2012, it felt like a light had been switched on and I began to submit to competitions. Although, I didn’t submit a great deal because there weren’t many places to send flash fiction back then and I didn’t have the confidence to rework pieces and keep sending them out. A few years ago, when I was fifty, I reached a point where I didn’t feel I could write anymore. I was suffering anxiety related to my parents’ increasing ill health and, at the time, my mother’s dementia diagnosis (my father was diagnosed too a year later). I told my step-daughter how I had started to draw again to help with my anxiety and her partner introduced me to Danny Gregory’s Everyday Matters: A Memoir. Danny Gregory taught himself to draw by sketching life around him after his wife became paralysed from the waist down following an accident. Through his book I discovered urban sketching, also known as on-location sketching. Not long after this I began writing and submitting again. Stepping back from writing and looking at the world through a different lens had made a difference. I submitted a flash I’d sent out a while back that had been rejected. It was short-listed for the Fish Prize and later published in National Flash Fiction Day’s 2014 anthology, Eating My Words. Since then writing and on-location sketching have run alongside each other and support each other. Until recently I saw my sketches purely as a way of relaxing while paying close attention to the world, but people are now asking to publish them. I was honoured to be asked to provide the cover artwork for your debut collection of flash fiction and create the artwork for NFFD.

Diane: I see that you have a flash fiction in a short story vending machine at Edmonton Airport, Canada. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Jeanette: There is a wonderful community of flash fiction writers out there who post information about opportunities. I saw a post by the amazing writer Helen Rye, whose wonderful story is the title of the NFFD Anthology Sleep is a Beautiful Colour, saying that Jason Lee Norman was looking for flash fictions to go into a Short Edition vending machine in a Canadian Airport. There are machines in a number of locations in France and Francis Ford Coppola has one in his San Francisco restaurant, Cafe Zoetrope. I believe the one in Edmonton is the first in Canada. The machine stands in one of the terminals, passengers press a button and out comes a flash fiction. Freya Morris, who, by the way, has just published her stunning debut collection This is (Not About) David Bowie, is in the process of approaching airports in the UK. I hope it happens!

Diane: I understand that you run something called ‘Sketch Coventry’. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Jeanette: I set up Sketch Coventry five years ago. It’s an open meet-up that runs once a month. Anyone can turn up on the day and sketch no matter what their experience. It’s an opportunity primarily for people to capture life. I came to on-location sketching through anxiety but people don’t need to have experienced anxiety to come along. We are not a mindfulness group, but paying attention is inherent in on-location sketching because you have to look and focus on what is in front of you. People come along for their own reasons. Some come just for the process, some come to practice their drawing skills, others will come because they like the social side, many attend because they feel less self-conscious sketching on the street when they are in a group. Whatever the reasons people come along, the end result is a sketch of Coventry. It might be a sketch of a building or buildings, it might be people in a cafe. It can be whatever the sketcher wants to capture. There are big changes happening in Coventry, especially because it is City of Culture 2021, so our sketches are also a personal record of a changing city.

Diane: Coventry suffered very heavily from bomb damage in the war, but there are still some beautiful buildings left, with the half-ruined cathedral being particularly interesting. Looking at the sketches one your website, I notice that there aren't any of the grander buildings in the city. Is this deliberate?

Jeanette: Absolutely, there are many wonderful buildings. The Cathedral ruins are certainly a poignant and powerful reminder of a devastating time in the history of Coventry. There are also other magnificent medieval and Tudor buildings that survived the bombing such as The Old Grammar School and Bond’s Hospital, plus smaller gems tucked away, such as the Weaver’s House and Lychgate Cottages. In answer to your question about why I haven’t included any of the grander building on my website, it’s really a question of what my eye is naturally drawn to. I’m interested in shining a torch on people and on the smaller things in life. Is it any surprise I write flash! Actually, there is only one sketch of Coventry on my website at the moment because many of the images I’ve created to date were drawn across two pages in a landscape sketchbook and they are difficult to reproduce successfully on the website. I never imagined I would have a website, sketching was just for pleasure and something to be shared with other sketchers.

Diane: Most writers draw on their own life experiences in some way in order to write fiction. Are there any periods in your life that you use more than others as material?

Jeanette: I suppose it might help to say here that I’m not a planner. One of the reasons I enjoy writing flash is the sense of discovery it allows. I can sit down and see what comes out then sculpt what’s on the page into some kind of shape. Over the last few years my parents’ physical health and dementia has been an enormous part of my life and without doubt the feelings around that have influenced my writing, but I wouldn’t say I have written about that experience in a direct, CNF way. It is more about tapping into emotions surrounding the experience. One of my flash fictions, for example, features a narrator filling her lounge with water so that she can swim in order to escape the pressures of caring. That obviously didn’t happen in real life, but the emotional truth is there. I’ve recently realised that I’ve probably written some flash as a form of protection: I’ve created situations that I may one day have to face, especially in terms of dementia. My latest flash to be published, in The Nottingham Review, features a mother who doesn’t recognise her daughter. That hasn’t happened to me yet, but after I’d written it I realised I was preparing myself for the day that it might happen. Not recognising family doesn’t happen to everyone who has dementia, of course, I want to be clear about that. I have just completed a novella-in-flash which has absolutely nothing to do with dementia but the emotions that can surround caring for someone are definitely present in some way, be it in a real, magically real, or surreal way.

Jeanette SheppardJeanette Sheppard is a short fiction writer and sketch artist. Her most recent flash fictions can be seen in The Nottingham Review, Ellipsis Zine and Flash Fiction Festival Anthology: Two. Other stories have been published in a number of literary magazines, including Bare Fiction, Litro and The Lonely Crowd. Jeanette’s art revolves around sketching on streets, in buildings, cafes, fields, train stations, anywhere that she happens to be, in ink and watercolour. Every month she runs Sketch Coventry, a self-led open meet up. You can find out more at: jeanettesheppard.com or on Twitter: @InkLinked @JinnySketches

 

SUBMISSIONS CLOSE VERY SOON for this year's National Flash Fiction Day Anthology and Micro Fiction Competition. Submissions close on 15th March 2019. For more information, please visit our Anthology and Competition pages.  

Welcome to the sixth in a series of interviews with this year's National Flash Fiction Day anthology editors and micro fiction competition judges! This week, Santino Prinzi is in conversation with micro fiction competition judge, Kevlin Henney, who discusses clichés, live performances, and editing tips...

Santino: Kevlin, you’ve read, written, and judged many micros in your time. What, in your opinion, makes a micro pop?

Kevlin: Like anything that pops, there has to be some kind of energy to release. There’s not a lot of space in a micro, so use of language is essential not just structural. Whether the language is shaken or stirred, it can’t be flat — language is where that released energy comes from.

Depending on the story, the language can be spare, novel, humorous, grave, playful, meditated, slow, fast, but it should definitely be. Every word, every construction, is working in a gig economy, passing through but holding down multiple jobs. They have their grammatical roles to fulfil, but they also need to pass interviews on flavour — or feel or colour or whichever sense metaphor captures for you the quality of the story you sense and want the reader to experience — pace, mood, appropriateness — don’t stumble from pathos to bathos. Write but don’t be writerly.

Santino: Where do you draw inspiration for your own work?

Kevlin: Many of my stories grow from moments, either imagined or observed. A toddler unlocking the door of a public toilet onto a concourse, mother not yet ready. A teenager discovering a seam on her neck. Being served an empty plate in a restaurant.

And then this moment sparks another thought or shacks up with another moment... and before you know it a story is growing, whether gently below the surface of your awareness or in a mad rush through your fingers onto the page. There’s rarely a big idea or a strict intention — if those are present in the final story, they are usually late arrivals, realised sometime after the small idea or the accidental insight.

Santino: I have seen you read your flash fiction at various live events and you always read with energy and character. How important do you think going to live readings of flash fiction, or any literature, is?

Kevlin: Where the written word counts as a single medium of expression, reading counts as many. The written word can come alive through sight, through sound and, via Braille, through touch. Reading is sensual.

Giving life to fiction through live readings adds a public performance side to the otherwise private life of personal reading. Stories can support public and private experiences, extrovert and introvert contexts, the prosocial and the hermetic. A live reading can show both listener and reader different sides of a story, it can bring stories to new audiences, it can contribute to the experience of an event, it can be downright fun!

Compared with longer forms, flash fiction is the fiction of minutes not quarter hours, falling comfortably within the limits of attention span, jostling with poetry as a natural fit for this platform.

Santino: People argue that the key to writing great flash fiction isn’t only in the act of writing itself but in the editing, too. Could you please share your favourite writing and/or editing tips that help you transform the idea in your head into the piece of writing you wish it to be?

Kevlin: Editing is where the story can go from toddling around, bumping into inconsistencies and not yet sure of itself, to coming of age, with a sureness of purpose and more solid wordfall.

For me, editing is where I wrangle the words and sentences to defamiliarise and refamiliarise myself with the story. Work out what story is being told while working out how to tell it. Noise words, jobless clauses and filler sentences served a supporting role in the initial draft, but their contract’s over, so let them go.

But what about repetition and cliché? Repetition is double edged (or triple, quadruple...). Conventionally repetition is something to strike out, but repetition can lend a story foreshadowing, theme, pace and rhythm. The answer is not as simple as three strikes and it’s out.

And rather than say that clichés should be avoided, any cliché should either tell us of era or of person — if a cliché has a strong association, work that angle, you’re worldbuilding with an economy of words — or it should be played with and subverted — surprise the reader! But clichés that just fill the space don’t spark joy, so bin them.

Santino: If you could liken flash fiction to a piece of technology, fictional or real, what would it be and why?

Kevlin: Flash fiction is a smartphone. It fits in your pocket but contains the world. You can get lost in it. You can show others. You can take it anywhere and anywhen.

Kevlin Henney writes shorts and flashes and drabbles of fiction and books and articles on software development. His fiction has appeared online and on tree (Daily Science FictionLitroNew ScientistPhysics WorldSpelkReflex FictionLabLitFlight Journal and many more) and has been included in a number of anthologies (The Dark Half of the Year,North by SouthwestWe Can Improve YouHauntedSalt Anthology of New WritingRipeningSleep Is a Beautiful Colour and many more). As well as having his work rejected and make no impression whatsoever on writing competitions, Kevlin’s stories have been longlisted, shortlisted and placed, and he won the CrimeFest 2014 Flashbang contest. He reads at spoken word events, winning the National Flash-Fiction Day Oxford flash slam in 2012, and has performed his work on local radio (BBC Radio Bristol and Ujima). Kevlin has been involved in the organisation of the Bristol Festival of Literature and events for National Flash-Fiction Day. He lives in Bristol and online, where he can stalked as @KevlinHenney on Twitter, @kevlinhenney on Medium and @kevlin.henney on Instagram.

SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW OPEN for this year's National Flash Fiction Day Anthology and Micro Fiction Competition. Submissions close on 15th March 2019. For more information, please visit our Anthology and Competition pages.