A conversation with myself

‘How’s your album prompts project going? Are you getting anywhere?’

‘Slowly.’

‘How many flashes have you written?’

‘Not as many as I would like.’

‘How many?’

‘Six, I think.’

‘That’s good, isn’t it? So six stories all ready to submit?”

‘Well they’re sort of in a transient phase of development.’

‘They’re not finished?’

‘Er, yeah.’

‘That’s not exactly prolific is it? Calum Kerr wrote one a day for an entire year.’

‘That’s just annoying isn’t it? Anyway he’s the director of National Flash Fiction Day. He should be good at it. And I’ve been busy.’

‘Doing what?’

‘The day thing then submitting things, getting things published, flash slamming in Oxford. Oh and reading Tania Hershman’s book. You should get it, you know.’

‘My Mother Was An Upright Piano. I’m reading it too.’

‘Good isn’t it? And she’s lovely too. Met her last week.’

‘Brilliant book and she was encouraging about that story you wrote for the flash event. That should inspire you to write more. Bet she didn’t get good by making excuses.’

’S’pose not. Better go and write something then, hadn’t I?’

‘Yep, that’s what writers do. Come back when you’ve got something worth talking about.’

‘OK. I’m going. Any chance of a coffee first?’

‘Get on with it!’

‘OK, OK’

Exit stage left pursued by nagging self. 

National Flash Fiction Day – 16th May

On 16th May, the UK will be holding its first National Flash Fiction Day. If you don’t know what Flash Fiction is, then here is a great introduction to the genre. I love writing Flash, partly for the challenge of conveying a story in the absolute minimum of words but mainly because I’m too harsh an editor of my short stories and what was once 1000 words becomes 250!  There are some fantastic writers taking part including quite a few twitter friends. I don’t think this is a coincidence – if you have to make a concise point in 140 characters, 140 words can feel like a whole novel!

I’m planning to celebrate the day by attending the event (reading in my broad Lancashire accent) in Oxford headlined by possibly the finest writer of short and flash fiction in the country, Tania Hershman, author of the hugely acclaimed ‘The White Road and Other Stories’. Before then, I wanted to publicise the day and know more about the idea behind National Flash Fiction Day so I spoke to the creator and organiser Calum Kerr.

Hi Calum, what gave you the inspiration to create a Day to celebrate Flash Fiction?

Hi Pete, thanks for having me.

Well, there were a number of inspirations which came together. The first was the fact that I am a devotee of flash-fiction. I was introduced to it about two years ago in a workshop run by Vanessa Gebbie, and then last January I started writing one a day for a month. That became a book called 31 and I thought that was that. But I had caught the bug, and on May 1st I started a project to write one a day for a year. At the time of writing it is day 284 and I haven’t missed one yet. So, yes, I was living and breathing flash when I had the idea.

Calum Kerr

The second thing came from a friend of mine, Jo Bell, who is the poetry editor for my literary e-zine, Word Gumbo, but also the Director of National Poetry Day. She was promoting her day and I thought… hmmm, is there a National Flash-Fiction Day I could get involved with? I looked and looked and, while I could find National Short Story Day, there was no Flash-Fiction day. It seemed obvious to me that there should be, so why not set it up myself?

The third reason also gave me the tools I needed to set it up. Since starting to write and publish Flash-Fictions I had met a host of writers working in the form, but there was no sense of a community as there is in poetry. I thought it would be a great way to bind them together, and introduce them to one another.

And so one day I just set up a Facebook page, a blog, an email address, picked a date which fell between National Poetry Day and National Short Story Day, and announced it to the world.

Do you regret it now?

Ha! No. Not at all. It’s much more work than I expected, and it’s looking like it’s going to be bigger than I could have imagined (especially with pressure from the US, Ireland and elsewhere to make it International Flash-Fiction Day) but it’s also a wonderful thing. From the moment I announced it everyone has been really enthusiastic, I have been introduced to additional hordes of flash writers. I have been interviewed and commissioned to write stories because I am now ‘that flash guy’, and I get to read lots of wonderful fictions from all of the new friends I’ve been making.

And, beyond the personal, I can see that I am forging a community of writers. Not only am I meeting all these people, they are meeting each other. Events are being organised, competitions run, anthologies compiled. New flashes are being written, new writers are being drawn to the form, the word is spreading and it feels like I’m the midwife to the birth of something wonderful. Hyperbolic I know, but true. Flash-fiction writers, who have previously been separate and isolated, are becoming a single group, and we are all really enthusiastic about what we do, so it’s already feeling like a party – with words.

Do you think this will be a one off or an annual event?

I hope it will be annual. I hope it will be international. I hope it will become as much a staple of the yearly literary round as National Poetry Day, the Booker and the Oscars. We have put in a small bid for some Arts Council funding this year, and if it’s successful we can add some extras to the day. If it’s not, the day will still go ahead and still be a success. But for future years, I’d like to see some funding coming in to help it grow bigger and better. And if everyone’s enthusiasm holds up, there’s no reason why it can’t.

You’ve got some of the best flash fiction writers around to take part, how did you get them to become involved? 

Honestly? I asked. Some of them are friends, or friends of friends, and that helps. But others have been complete strangers until I emailed and said ‘National Flash-Fiction Day… Wanna play?’ No-one has turned me down. It sounds big-headed, but it feels like one of those ideas whose time has come. It’s almost as though people were already waiting to be asked.

What has also been amazing is the number of writers who have sought me out. Some of them I have tracked down, but some of them just turned up and asked what they could do. That’s always a sign that you are doing something worthwhile.

What do you think makes a great flash fiction story?

I think it’s about capturing something fundamental in the fewest possible words. It doesn’t matter if it’s only a couple of hundred words, if they are the right ones then you can talk about all the big issues: life, death, love, hate, sex, loneliness, and, of course, cake, just as easily as you can in a couple of hundred thousand. And I think, because a flash asks a lot of the reader – asks them to bring their own knowledge and to do a lot of work to decode meaning – then the impact of the story can be much greater. It’s like distillation. A novel is a few pints of lager, and a short story is a bottle of good wine. But flash-fiction is a measure of 20 year old single malt. All you need is a sip to be able to get the full complexity of the flavours.

What do you think is the future for flash fiction?

I think we are entering the time of flash-fiction. Everyone is so busy, on the move, bustling, but they still want to read. Short-short stories are perfect for them. And with the increased use of e-books, tablet computers and people reading on their phones, it’s a convenient form too.

But, beyond that, the thing I have found in organising the Day, is that there is a real hunger for flash-fiction. There is something in the form which excites readers and writers alike. The novel isn’t any more dead now than on the several dozen times that its demise has been announced. That could also be said for the short story. But the flash-fiction is undoubtedly on the rise, and I’m giving it a leg-up.

 Thanks Calum and all the very best for National Flash Fiction Day on 16th May.

Whatever your interests, I hope this will encourage you to learn more about flash fiction and take part in what is shaping up to be a special day. If you want more information on the day, then the website is the best place to start. I’ll be looking to doing some other flash fiction features nearer the date.

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