Thursday, 29 March 2012

Drum and Flash - Guest post by Dan Carpenter

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine last weekend. He’s a DJ, a drum and bass one to be precise and we were discussing what we look for in stories, and in music. I should clarify, for the record, that I don’t much like drum and bass, or most dance music. He asked me what I first listened to when I listen to music, when that song first comes on, what is it that first grips you, that makes you want to listen more. I thought about it for a moment, and I told him it was the words. The lyrics of a song. That’s what I listen out for. And so I asked him, when you do the same, what is it you first listen out for? He said he didn’t much go for the lyrics, to him the words are just another instrument and he wants to hear all those instruments used intelligently. He wants creativity in everything to do with music.

I bring this up because I have been thinking a lot over the past week about myself as a writer. When I pick up a book and dismiss it after reading the first chapter because it’s badly written, because the plot doesn’t work – am I doing the same thing? Am I looking for works that use everything creatively, intelligently? Has writing, in fact, ruined my love of books to an extent? I can enjoy music because to me, the songs I like have great lyrics. I don’t care about the guitar or piano or whatever. But with stories, for me at least, they’ve got to get it all right.

I picked up Jon McGregor’s wonderful short story collection, ‘This isn’t the sort of thing that happens to someone like you’ the other week and the opening story, ‘That Colour’ happens to fall under the word count of a flash fiction. To me, that story is a work of genius. Go on, go out and buy it, give that tale a read and tell me it isn’t the best piece of work by a writer so far this year. It’s incredible and more so, it’s less than a thousand words long.

I suppose that’s what I like about Flash Fiction. Maybe like isn’t the right word, respect is probably better. When they’re done well, they manage to do everything well, plot, character, imagery; they can make you laugh, cry and all within a tiny word count.

We’ll be celebrating National Flash Fiction day in Manchester all day, with incredible performances from Flash Tag, and an evening event that might even feature your work. So go on, you’ve got two days left to send us a story. Impress us!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Competitions and Anthologies

National Flash-Fiction Day is rolling down the tracks, coming closer and closer. But before it gets here we have a host of deadlines for competitions and anthologies. So, I thought I would give you a list of the dates so you don't miss any of them.

Full details of all of these can be found on our website at

Saturday 31st March
Flash-Fiction South West - Anthology (West Country writers only)

Sunday 1st April
Bad Language - flash-fiction competition (All of UK)

Tuesday 10th April
National Flash-Fiction Day Anthology (All of UK)

Friday 13th April
Abergavenny Focus / The Word Counts - Flash-Fiction Competition (All of UK)

Sunday 15th April (11pm)
Derby Telegraph Flash Fiction Competition (Derbyshire writers only)

Sunday 15th April
Flashbang - Crime-flash Competition (International)

Friday 20th April
Lancashire Writing Hub's Flash-Fiction Competition (All of UK)

Monday 30th April (5pm)
Flash-Fiction at the end of the world! - Flash-Fiction Competition (All of UK)

Monday 30th April
1000 words (International)

Tuesday 1st May
'Flash a Famous Phrase' Competition - from Flash Fiction World (All of UK)

Date to be Confirmed
Once Upon a Time Writing Contest (International)

And, we have an open project with no particular deadline:


So, sharpen your pens, brush off your keyboards, and get your work in while you still can.
Good luck to you all!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Is flash fiction really real? - Guest Post by Alison Wells

Flash fiction it's all the rage now. It's short, it's snappy, it's intense, it's bitesized. It's a short piece of fiction that ranges from the single word to a roundabout 1000 words at a stretch. It's as direct as poetry but without the same abstraction. It makes words work extra hard through attention to juxtaposition, erudition, etymology, sound and tempo. Flash fiction requires skill and wit, it requires a writer with nerves of steel, and a sharp steely scalpel that cuts out everything that distracts or is not necessary. It's a shot, instead of a pint. It's a story without the subplots, it's character as plot. It's story boiled down to it's essence: Character, motivation, action, epiphany (or you could be really clever and try a characterless epiphany or make the reader the character – anything to save words).

Have I convinced you yet? Is flash fiction really something different? Something that should be recognised it's own right?

Here in Ireland the recognition of flash fiction is definitely on the rise. After an Irish Times article (in which some of my views were quoted) the Irish Times proceeded to publish a flash fiction piece every day in it's newspaper. In an era when fiction is being edged out of many publications this is a terrific boon. In addition the lauded Irish national radio's arts programme RTE's Arena is now holding a flash fiction competition and both the Fish and Bridport Prizes have added flash fiction to their competition categories.

My own experience of finding flash fiction was through the Twitter community and hashtag #fridayflash. Here I found a place where I could create and read small pieces of fiction that, at it's most effective told a complete story and set of cerebral sparks. Many of these stories are being collated in Flashes of Sadness and Light where many of the characters appear again and again in each others stories.

We live in an age when everything and everyone is a story. We invent ourselves through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, we look the extremes of the human condition through reality TV. We have round the clock news delivering pathos, action, outrage, rhetoric, conflict all in a moment.

Flash fiction is quick, it hits hard like the headlines. Flash has to find the hook fast, it needs to speak to us to reflect or expand our experience or it loses the reader. The beauty of flash and the crux of why it is important is that while it is short, quick, intense, accessible, bite-sized for the Smartphone it is made of words and can give us the best of what fiction can give.

And what can fiction give us? - Reflection, resonance, depth, pause, perspective. Through the eyes of authors, through their choices we can experience news ways of looking at the world, new understanding or just be plain old entertained.

When you look back at a book you enjoyed, or a film or piece of music, there is often a key scene or in music a lyric or a theme that sticks in your head and sums everything up and that is the power of flash fiction, it can be that killer moment, that set of notes that twists the knife in your gut, it is the shady bit in the middle of a Venn diagram that says everything that needs to be said: confluence, convergence, coincidence, consequence.

Do you remember a look years on? Where you were standing when you heard the news? That's flash.

As a writer, writing flash has given me: the opportunity to experiment, the discipline of chiselling a piece down to its fundamental elements, the joy (as a psychology graduate) of making character itself tell the story. It also has provided the parameter for me to ask myself over and over again, what really matters in the story? What creates an effect and what makes a difference?

Reading, most recently David Gaffney's very short pieces (or micro fiction) as he likes to call them in his collection Sawn Off Tales what has struck me is that these flash fictions have the impact of stand up comedy gags. We have the anticipation, the initial idea planted in our heads as to where the story or the gag might be going, then the exposition, the story, the thing that happened and finally, the resolution – or maybe not – both in comedy and in flash fiction the power is sometimes in the not saying, in the juxtaposition of ideas or occurrences that sets off a trigger in the mind of the reader. So flash fiction will be, (and perhaps even more so than other fictions) a collaboration between reader and writer, a conspiracy or collusion of understanding, shared conventions understood and then exploded.

While some commentators are still not sure that flash fiction is more than a writing exercise, I am firmly convinced that it taps into our human desire for anecdote and wit, it requires quick thinking, many connections firing at once. In this modern age of multitasking and parallel processing of all kinds of media, flash fiction, in my opinion, is something that is smart, quick and effective but also something that will endure as a way of making sense of the world and a fantastic way to enjoy and experience that sense making.

Friday, 16 March 2012

NFFD - Bulletin 4

(This bulletin was sent out on 16th March 2012. If you would like to be added to our mailing list, please get in touch via the email address on our website at

Dear All,

I thought today would be appropriate for an update as it is exactly 2 months until National Flash-Fiction Day itself. Since the last bulletin a lot has been happening so I thought I would bring you up to date, tell you what's happening, and all the rest.

As you probably already know we have secured some Arts Council funding. This is not a huge amount but it has allowed us do some things that otherwise wouldn't have happened:

  • We have put an anthology into production with 10 stories commissioned from all parts of the country. This will be edited by myself and Valerie O'Riordan and will include, and we are chuffed to bits about this: Jenn Ashworth, Tania Hershman, Vanessa Gebbie, David Gaffney, Emma J. Lannie, Jonathan Pinnock, Simon Thirsk, Nigel McLoughlin, Sarah Hilary, Eunice Yeates, Kirsty Logan and - in case you haven't heard me shouting it from the rooftops - Ali Smith! This anthology is also seeking submissions, and details are on the website (
  • Following on from the success of the Micro-Fiction competition (nearly 300 entries of an incredible standard and 10 very worthy winners) we are going to print promotional cards featuring the stories ( If you are running an event or simply wish to promote the day in a very attractive physical form, please let me know (with a postal address) and I will forward a batch of cards to you once they're printed.
  • On the same theme, we are also hoping to print some posters in a similar style. So, let me know if you want those as well.
  • And we have been able to afford some professional PR help. This means that we can start spreading the word even further and will be able to help promote your events in the national and local media.

In the meantime the number of writers listed on the website has grown hugely. We still have space for more, so do get in touch if you are a published (in however small a way) flash-fictioneer and would like to be listed. In the near future, when I have time, I will be changing the layout of the 'Writers' page to provide a more usable A-Z listing, but also a listing by region. This has been requested by a couple of literature professionals (council and library people) as it will allow them to pinpoint their local authors and more easily book them for events. So that should be helpful!

We have also added a number of new events and competitions. However, we want more! Word is finally coming in from Scotland and Northern Ireland of things happening there, but the North East of England and - surprisingly - London are still empty. So, if you live in those areas, or know people who do, please think about setting something up or chivvying them along. We want to cover as much of the country as possible. And, if you live in areas with things already happening, please don't think you can't set up more events or, if you'd rather not, consider getting involved with what's already going on.

Just a word here about 'Closed' events. Some people - myself included - are running events which are limited to geographical areas or, even, to a particular institution or group. I would still like to know about these and to list them on the site. They will be listed as 'Closed' (as in, not open to the general public) but it would be good to show people they don't need to run large-scale public events. So, if you are planning something at your school, college, university, reading group, writing group, etc. which will only be open to the pupils/members, please do let me know. And, if you're not, why not think about doing so?

The 'International' section now has a few entries, but I'm sure we could have a lot more. So encourage your non-UK friends to get in touch for a listing.

We also now have a couple of new sections. One is for projects and magazines etc. So if you are doing something noteworthy and flashy online, let me know and we'll list you. Likewise, we have a section for videos. So if you have been caught on camera reading a flash, or something related, let me know and we'll add it to our site and our YouTube Channel.

As I mentioned above, we will be hitting the press soon, and hope to get some coverage. But it would help us immensely if you could use any contacts you have in the media - local, national, international - to spread the word. You can direct them back to me if you would rather not deal directly, but please let's start getting the word out there.

On that same theme, while we have a good band of followers on our social media outlets, we could always have more. So, if you are on Twitter, please follow us at @nationalflashfd and, as it's Friday, how about giving us a single tweet with a #ff or #followfriday tag in it, or otherwise encourage your friends to follow us and get involved. Likewise, if you haven't 'Liked' our Facebook page at, please can you do so and also share the link on your pages encouraging your friends to sign up too?

Additionally, if you run a blog or website, and would like an interview from me - or a piece of flash-fiction - then please get in touch. I think the time is right to start those kinds of promotions as the day is still far away enough to organise something but close enough to be tangible. Likewise, if you would rather interview one of our listed writers, please get in touch with me and I will pass on your request. I would ask you to go through me, even if you know the writer in question, partly to stop them receiving too many requests at once, but also so I can keep track and help promote the interview/post/thing on our various outlets.

And finally, a more personal call-out. I shall be hosting the 'official'(?) NFFD event on the day at central library in Southampton. This will consist of readings, talking about flash-fiction and the day, and the official launch of the anthology. If you are close enough to come, it would be great to see you. And if you are a writer of flash and would like to read at the event, please get in touch and I shall try to add you to the programme. Thanks.

And that's it for now. A big thank you to all of you for all you have done so far. National Flash-Fiction Day was just a silly idea I had, but now it's shaping up to be something amazing! With your help it can be big and beautiful, and build a platform to launch future years of National (and maybe even International) flashing!

Thanks, really.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

1000 Words of Wonder - Guest Blog from Marc Nash

A guest blog post from Marc Nash on just how lyrical a flash-fiction can be. with accompanying video:

Somehow I started writing weekly flash fiction for my blog as part of my marketing "strategy" for my debut novel, tweeting the link as part of Twitter's #fridayflash community. I'd barely written a short story at that point, let alone one restricted to 1000 words. But the discipline of producing a new story a week and a limited word count were wonderfully conducive to learning rapidly! After a little over a year I had 52 flash pieces and having said I wouldn't write anything new while marketing the novel, suddenly I found I had an anthology for my second book.

I'm always wrestling with words, trying to nail down the elusive precision of their meaning. Flash fiction allowed me to pursue my grappling with language in closer focus than even in my novel writing. With no more than 500-1000 words, there is simply no room for wastage or indulgence. Every word has to count. Has to have an impact.

1000 words play off each other in a way that the 75,000 words of a novel just can't. A reader can hold 1000 words in their mind, where they can't possibly hold all 75,000 of a novel. Therefore the reader is far more able to catch the resonances and layers, picking up the significance of a word or phrase in the first paragraph through something that you've supplied them in the final paragraph. A novel stretching out over 75,000 words cannot assume the reader is going to recall touchstone words and phrases in quite the same way.

Then there's the sound and rhythm of the piece. You can sustain a lyricism over 1000 words in a way that is far harder over the course of a novel. For the 2-3 minute duration of a flash piece, you can make the language "sing" inside the reader's head. You can afford to choose a word for its sound as much as its meaning. For those 1000 words, the flash writer is in complete control of the reader's breath. This simply isn't possible in the same way over the course of a novel. The reader doesn't maintain their concentration and focus at an even intensity over every word. For 2-3 minutes of flash, when it's written excitingly and lusciously, we can absolutely make them!

Yet flash fiction is far from abbreviation. It demands the correct word choice to convey exactly what the writer needs it to say. Words have to bear even more weight in flash, because they are being asked to do so much in a very short span. Language becomes a tool wielded with laser precision, something I was able to take back into my novel writing. I'm still writing flash fiction, though not one a week. Just when the idea takes hold and demands to be expressed in the shortest form of narrative possible. Usually some image or idea I've come across during the week, which I can explore in all its many facets within the scope of 1000 words. Flash fiction rather than shrinking everything, actually allows you to open out one idea or image into the full complement of its subtle shades of meaning. It is both microscopic slide and telescopic lens lanced out into the cosmos! For only 1000 words, it is surprisingly unlimited.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

# Story Sunday

It's #StorySunday over on Twitter. In case you don't know what that means, people but the 'hashtag' #StorySunday into their tweets and post a link to a story they like. I've been watching it this morning and a number of people are posting their links to stories which won the first National Flash-Fiction Day micro-fiction competition. I wanted to add a National Flash-Fiction Day voice to the throng, but what an invidious choice, asking me to pick between my children. So, I thought I would post all of the stories here, giving you the chance to read them if you haven't yet, and then I can post a single link and no-one gets left out!

So, in alphabetcial order, here are the ten wonderful stories which won this year's competition. I hope you enjoy them and please feel free to tweet this post, share this post on Facebook, tell your friends on the phone or just sit back on a lazy Sunday and enjoy.

'New Shoes'
by Jenny Adamthwaite

Dad wanted trainers.
"I'd like to know I could run away," he said.
When the hospital bed lay empty, it gave us a moment's hope.

'Sad Lover'
by Jason Bagshaw

Beth and Alana had reservations at the restaurant in town. On the phone Beth said, 'I'll meet you at seven,' and Alana faked excitement and said, 'Can't wait.' Half past seven and the two of them were seated, ordering their drinks, listening to the piano of a popular composer coming through the speakers. 'It's Bach,' said Beth. 'I know,' Alana replied, but she knew it was Mozart and she wanted to break things off with her. 'I'm going to tell George everything,' said Beth and Alana cried inside. 'Good,' Alana said and hummed along to Mozart. To Bach.

'Black Hole'
by Daniel Carpenter

There is a black hole above her house.

This swirling cosmic nothingness, ever expanding, tendrils reaching out across the sky. She does not know how it got there. She knows it's taking her things. She does not remember last Saturday. When she tries to explain it she can't. She wants to say, "There's a black hole above my house and it's stealing every memory I have ever treasured," but it is not the kind of sentence people understand.

The black hole expands, time collapses in on itself.

She discovers her twelve year old self in her attic.

'She'll Leave You For A Man'
by Kirsty Logan

You've always known it: that gleam, that glint, that licking of lips that means she is thinking about them. Men.

She thinks about them while smelling night jasmine, while rolling out pastry, while signing the bill for the waiter.

And so she will go. She will forget the shape of your hands.

But she will tire of her stubble-rashed chin, of long silences and calloused thumbs, of nothing to pillow her head.

So wait. Just wait.

by Amy Mackelden

On Grey's Anatomy, everyone's slept with everybody, and although real life is complicated, I'm sure it's not that complicated, or if it is then everyone's fucking without me, doing it secretly, when I'm at Pilates, or sleeping between ten and eight.

'New Build'
by Clare O'Brien

There is no door to close. Just space, scaffolded, bathed in mud and builder's grit. The air rolls in, clouds of steam boiling from impervious stone, steel rods singing down into the sea.

I can already smell the tang of a fire burning at our bare hearth as the rain sweeps through the rafters. Our boys climb ladders lashed to girders, laugh at the water which sticks their shirts to their backs.

Around our house's heart the rooms are growing shells. Inside these plotted squares we'll live our story. The windows wait outside, roped against the wind.

'The Worst Head in the World'
by Angela Readman

Liam gave me his mother's head. I guess he was sick of carrying it around.

'It's just for a while,' he said, placing the jar on the drawers. In the dark, lips made budgie-like kissing sounds. We had a reason to screw loud.

Come morning, the head tutted, 'I WANT a doily.'

It frowned if I wasted chicken bones, or didn't ask Liam if he'd washed his hands.

When he went, Liam left the head behind. It wavers in the water, tells me I'm not good enough, nods when I iron seams in jeans.

by Tim Stevenson

After the accident she came home rebuilt.

At breakfast, the platinum beneath her skin glows, pulsing with electricity, curiously alive.

I take some toast, spread butter. I see that there are no eggs in the pan.

She smiles, a mechanical lighthouse across the blue ocean of tablecloth. Her head turns smoothly towards the window, her warmth coming only from the sun.

I open my newspaper setting the pages full sail, seeking guidance in the new star of her unreadable face, in the night of her eyes.

Tonight I know I will not dream of her, only of the sea.

'Relieving Mafeking'
by Alun Williams

The 06:17 from Nuneaton stops for three minutes outside Wembley on its approach to Euston. For one hundred and eighty seconds, Mafeking Jones sits open mouthed in his usual seat, staring at a naked woman, framed like a fallen Madonna at her open bedroom window.

No one else notices, no one else sees, perhaps because they are insularly wrapped up in newsprint tales of economic gloom and sporting deeds that have now passed to memory.

Mafeking is an accountant, a man of spreadsheets and numbers but for those three Wembley solitary minutes he's Michaelangelo in a Florentine dream.

'First Person'
by Martha Williams

You lie within me, cupped and curled. You're in me, I'm in you; we're each other's inside out.

They count your fingers, toes, chromosomes... twice. My head spins.

Are you upside down?

They turn off the monitor. They speak in needles, numbers, and odds. I strum my fingers to your kicks.

They say, "If you... we have pills... the products of conception would..." They don't smile. My belly tightens.

Can you feel me? I'm your first person.

I say, "The products of conception, call them 'Emma'".

You lie still...

When you wake, you can call me 'Mum'.