Flash Fiction Evening with David Gaffney and Tania Hershman

The Milton Keynes Literary Festival moved online this year, with a series of events for their autumn program, which culminated in a wonderful evening of flash fiction readings from David Gaffney and Tania Hershman and a Q&A session of questions from participants. Most, not easy to answer, but, as Tania mentioned, there are no rules. We talked about what flash fiction is, or what it might be, and about permission to leave things out, to be daring.

It was good to see familiar faces, and meet new ones. David Gaffney swept us up into the world of his clever graphic novel, The Three Rooms in Valerie’s Head, which began as a performance, based on several of his micro-fictions, and is the title of one of my favourite stories in his collection, More Sawn-Off Tales. In amongst this brilliant collection of 150 word stories, The Three Rooms in Valerie’s Head describes the men she hides in the cellar. “Sometimes she would bring three of four ex-boyfriends up from the cellar and arrange them into scenes – a trad-jazz band, or a dispute around a pool table – and she would move their jaws and make them speak in scratchy voices.” He draws us into the world of Valerie’s life of inept lovers and weird obsessions.

Thought-provoking lines from Everything’s West Of Something began, mid-action, with a vase flying through the air. “You can discover everything about your girlfriend by tossing a breakable object towards her.  Is she poised? Confident in her judgements? Does she seem willing to take responsibility for someone else’s actions? Is she comfortable with spontaneity? What is her attitude to risk, debt, transgression, sin, guilt? How does she experience the passing of time? Does she appear to believe in an afterlife? An interventionist god? Ghosts, fate, predestination?”

All Mod Cons was another wonderful reading, about Jake, who “invented a prescription glass windscreen for his car so that he could drive without wearing his corrective lenses. He enjoyed the feeling of freedom – no plastic pads digging into his nose – and it had the added advantage that car thieves couldn’t drive the vehicle unless they happened to have the same degree of myopia.”

We discovered the way that stories formed as he listened and observed details of every day life, with Potato Smiles evolving from an overheard conversation between a couple, where the woman had inadvertently been looking at the children’s menu, had never heard of potato smiles, and ended up ordering them with her steak! These are the nuggets of information that listeners savour, the moments that fuel and form a story.

He talked about inspiration drawn from Lydia Davis’ writing as a short story author. As he read a 150-word flash fiction piece about Eggborough Power Station, a slide show was projected on to the wall behind. This was a work of art in itself. The stories were varied, and, as always, utterly captivating. You can find David’s books at Salt and elsewhere.

Photo credit: Sarah-Clare Conlon

Tania Hershman treated us to readings from her collections, The White Road and Other Stories, My Mother Was an Upright Piano and Some of Us Glow More Than Others, as well as stories from many other places. She has an almost hypnotic style of reading, drawing you into a scene and holding you there, momentarily. Listen to her read a selection of work on SoundCloud. Her writing, often based on Science, is bold, quirky and gives a brutally honest insight into human nature and nature itself. Tania’s Science Journalism background, along with a Writer in Residence year in a lab, feeds into every fibre of her writing. She read two of my favourite stories:

Vegetable Mineral took us into some snappy and insightful dialogue, keeping us hooked to the end. “When you came back with the post, you held the letters out to me as if the red ink would burn through you like acid. ‘Let’s run away,’ I said. ‘Barbados, Brighton, Bermuda, Brooklyn.’ ‘Only B’s?’ you said, and slumped onto the couch. ‘Today is brought to you by the letter B,’ I said. ‘Animal,’ you said. ‘Domesticated?’ I said as I shoved the bills down the back of the armchair.’”

How to be Here, took us on a journey to a riverbank. “Hover, over exactly that spot on the river, half way between the locks and listen. After an hour, century or minute, land on this bank, wait, in long grasses and inhale.” Tania’s stories leave you clasping hold of the final few words, willing them to stay and tell you more. You can find Tania’s books on her page at Bookshop.org.

Sipping from an enviably beautiful cup, Tania answered questions about story length and how to balance narrative with dialogue. She talked about a 800 word story, which took two and a half years to write, and when asked about story length, we learned that David has been asked by editors to expand his work at times, whereas Tania often cuts down her writing, culling the words and reforming a story. Both talked about the feel and shape of a story, and felt that no two writers work the same way, and no two stories are created by any specific process. She discussed her hybrid writing, the freedom of form, and the idea of losing labels. We talked about the importance of permission to be freer with what you write, to take risks.

Photo credit: Tania Hershman

I have, by no means, covered all the stories we heard, but I hope this gives a flavour of the evening. A recording of the session will be available on YouTube within the next few weeks and I’ll add a link here for you to watch. Thank you to the Milton Keynes Literary festival for organising this event, and to Dave Wakely for chairing. Next time, we’ll all bring cake!

Runner up in the Lunate Fiction Flash Competition

I’m thrilled to share the news that my story was longlisted, then shortlisted, and was this week placed as a runner up, along with 3 other wonderful stories. You can read my story at Lunate.co.uk

Entries were judged by the fantastic founding editor of EllipsisZine, Steve Campbell. You can read a blog interview with him here. If you haven’t come across this literary magazine, I would highly recommend a read. You might also find a few of my stories in there.

I hope you enjoy the stories. I’m off to celebrate the news!

Shortlisted in Lunate Fiction Flash Prize and two more publications

I discovered yesterday that my story has been shortlisted for the Lunate Fiction Flash Prize, judged by EllipsisZine Editor, Steve Campbell. Very exciting news!

Flash Prize Longlist

Another story was also published today by Lunate Fiction – A Place of Unfinished Sentences

A Place of Unfinished Sentences

The woman sitting opposite me looks like the guy I used to date. Her face is angular, her eyes fixed to the page of a book I cannot see. I wonder why she reminds me of him, and whether her features are particularly masculine, or his more feminine; maybe both. The door clunks back into the frame of the train’s carriage. A thud as it stops makes me jump and a man with a trolley walks through and scans the seats.

“Tea? Coffee?” he asks, glancing at the ex-boyfriend lookalike.

“Neither,” she says, her eyes remaining fixed on the pages in her hands. 

He looks at me. “Coffee, black, no sugar,” I say, without waiting to be asked. He lowers his shoulders, exhaling slowly as he pours me a cup from a large metal coffee pot. Steam rises from the spout, the scent of it licking at my nostrils. Saliva fills my mouth in anticipation….continued at Lunate.co.uk

And, in case you missed this one, Do You See Me Coming, was also published in July at the new Burnt Breakfast Magazine.

Do You See Me Coming?

Do you see me coming, when the days are short and the nights feverish, when the family gathers round, wondering whether to call the doctor or let you slip away, peacefully. Do you see me coming when the flicker of evening light reminds you that your ancestors are beckoning you home. You think about your childhood and remember days where you came inside, covered in dirt and Mother shooed you away with a flap of a hand, and the smell of creosote where Father had painted the fence. You loved the smell but you weren’t supposed to. It was toxic, you were told, but you also loved the hot scent of tarmac. You always liked the things that you weren’t supposed to. You remember the way the swallows came in to nest then left, like Father, when I had come to him, too. He saw me coming. The rest of you only saw me leave, taking him with me …. continued at Burnt Breakfast  

Four Lit Journal Acceptances This Week And A New Short Story Publication

I hope everyone has survived lockdown. We are not out of the woods yet, but it’s good to have a little more contact with the outside world. I have had a recent flurry of writing and four short story acceptances this week! Stories forthcoming in Burnt Breakfast Magazine (July 2020), Fully Lit Magazine (July 2020), Lunate Fiction (August 2020)

I had a lovely acceptance letter from all of the above journals, but wanted to share the words from Lunate Fiction about my story, A Place of Unfinished Sentences:

“It is a rich and complex story, once that requires focus and attention from a reader in order to bring out the full story, and even then, as the title suggests, we are not given all the pieces of the puzzle! Your use of narrative voice is exceptional in this piece, as is your careful use of minor detail which draws the reader’s attention and acts almost as a smoke-screen for the wider picture. It is a remarkable flash fiction.”
And in other news, my story, Someone Once Told Me That Delia Is Outdated, was published by Reflex Fiction, May 2020. You can read an extract below and follow the link to read the complete story at Reflex Press.
When paranoia sets in, I mentally search for the fire escape. Is it in the hallway? Is it on the second floor? What if I feel the urge to jump from the balcony? A short man with a balding head walks past me and winks. He is holding a book on golf. My stomach turns. I am in the self-help section, looking for something that might fix my mind, but it is not there. There is no book that can erase memories. Maybe the cookery section might help, something from Jamie Oliver or Mary Berry. Someone once told me that Delia is outdated. I have acquired lots of books on how to bake cupcakes and muffins, which I would happily make all day, but sometimes you need to get into the meaty stuff, the grit of life….read more at Reflex Press.

Short story publications

Stories published in online journals

Short stories are the heartbeat of many writers. I intersperse writing short stories with writing and editing novels. My second novel is now complete and edited. Below is a list of my recent publications and some links to other stories I have enjoyed reading.

Is He?, Mojave Heart Journal, February 2019

Lavender, Synaeresis Issue 5, January 2019

You Listen to the Sound of Gulls, EllipsisZine, December 2018

Your House is too Small, Spillwords, November 2018

Classic Short Stories for Fiction Writers

writersedit.com

Stories I Have Enjoyed Reading in Recent Publications

I Eat the Flowers on Your Grave by Barbara Lovric, Anti-Heroin Chic

Bullseye by Meg Pogkrass, Fictive Dream

Sanctus Spiritus, 1512 by Sarah Arantza Amador, Cheap Pop Lit

Against the Grain by Tara Isabel Zambrano, Wigleaf

The Mightiest Mammal, Singing by Kate Finegan, Pigeonholes

Senna by Steve Campbell, FlashBack Fiction

Screaming Story by Deve Murphy, Jellyfish Review

In November 2017 by S.L. Bailey, SmokeLong Quarterly

And if you’d like to read more….

Best Microfiction List

  • Sarah Arantza Amador, “Sanctus Spiritus, 1512” (Cheap Pop)
  • Anita Arlov, “He She It They” (National Flash Fiction Day NZ)
  • Jessica Barksdale, “Knock Knock” (Matchbook)
  • Roberta Beary, “Swimming in Circles” (KYSO Flash)
  • Matt Bell, “The Hungerer” (Wigleaf)
  • Dick Bentley, “Health Care” (Serving House Journal)
  • Gregory Brown, “Birdhouse” (PRISM International)
  • Cavin Bryce, “Fragments of Evolution” (Cheap Pop)
  • Tetman Callis, “Candlelight and Flowers” (NY Tyrant)
  • Mike Chin, “Training” (Passages North)
  • Myfanwy Collins, “Euthanasia” (Jellyfish Review)
  • Tim Craig, “Northern Lights” (Bath Flash Fiction Award)
  • Tommy Dean, “You’ve Stopped” (Pithead Chapel)
  • Olga Dermott Bond, “Mr Rochester and I” (Bath Flash Fiction v3)
  • Leonora Desar, “Fire, Ocean” (TSS)
  • Leonora Desar, “My Father’s Girlfriend” (Matchbook Lit)
  • Leonora Desar, “The Monkey” (Reflex Fiction)
  • Will Finlayson, “The Strip Club” (Southampton Review)
  • Valerie Fox, “Even the Christmas Tree was Nicer That Year” (Across the Margins)
  • Sarah Freligh, “Any Body” (Cincinatti Review)
  • Frances Gapper, “Plum Jam” (Flashback Fiction)
  • Jo Gatford, “Things Left And Found By The Side Of The Road” (Bath Flash Fiction Award)
  • Christopher Gaumer, “He Died We Left Him Til Morning” (The Citron Review)
  • Beth Gilstrap, “Becky” (Pithead Chapel)
  • Beth Gilstrap, “Bone Words” (Longleaf Review)
  • Melissa Goode, “Empire of Light” (Gone Lawn)
  • Melissa Goode, “I Wanna Be Adored ” (Cheap Pop)
  • Melissa Goode, “Tonight, We Are Awake” (Wigleaf)
  • Anita Goveas, “Frau Roentgen’s Left Hand” (Flashback Fiction)
  • Anita Goveas, “Let’s Sing All the Swear Words We Know ” (Lost Balloons)
  • Tina May Hall, “The Extinction Museum: Exhibit #28 (incandescent bulb, unlit)The Collagist” (The Collagist)
  • Toni Halleen, “Not the Whole Story” (Wigleaf)
  • Steven John, “A Brief History of Time in Our House” (Ad Hoc Fiction)
  • Peter Krumbach, “11.37” (The Adroit Journal)
  • Meghan Lamb, “Missing” (Passages North)
  • Raven Leilani, “Kanekalon” (Split Lip)
  • Page Leland, “Self Portrait with Early December” (Former Cactus)
  • Robert Lopez, “A Warm Motherly Look” (Wigleaf)
  • Paul Luikart, “Breathless” (Brilliant Flash Fiction)
  • Fiona Mackintosh, “Siren” (Bath Flash Fiction Award)
  • Fiona Mackintosh, “The Chemistry of Living Things” (Fish Publishing)
  • Lutivini Majanja, “Am Inheritance” (Flash Frontier)
  • Prosper Makara, “Lessons from my Mother” (Afreada– Africa’s Literary Magazine)
  • Dan Malakoff, “Loop-the-Loop” (Wigleaf)
  • Michael Martone, “Boom” (Always Crashing)
  • Michael Martone, “Klaus Weber, Curb House Numberer” (The Collagist)
  • Kathleen McGookey, “You Can Find Joy in Doing Laundry” (KYSO)
  • Adam McOmber, “A Roman Road” (Atticus Review)
  • Heather McQuillan, “A post-traumatic god” (Menicus)
  • KC Mead-Brewer, “It’s Shaped like a Grin, They Say” (Cheap Pop)
  • Jose Enrique Medina, “Niňos de La Tierra” (Burnside Review)
  • Tracy Lynne Oliver, “This Weekend” (Fanzine)
  • Dominica Phetteplace, “After the Flood Waters Came” (Wigleaf)
  • Meghan Phillips, “Abstinence Only” (Passages North)
  • Megan Phillips, “Final Girl Slumber Party” (Barrelhouse)
  • Kristen Ploetz, “LifeColor Indoor Latex Paints® — Whites and Reds (R)” (JMWW)
  • Claire Polders, “Breathlessness” (Moonpark Review)
  • Dina Relles, “And Sometimes We Meet” (Matchbook)
  • Belinda Rimmer, “Domestic” (Anti-Heroin Chic)
  • Nicole Rivas, “Crumbs” (The Cincinnati Review)
  • Becky Robison, “Baby Dolls” (Pank)
  • Brad Rose, “Desert Motel” (Pithead Chapel)
  • Sarah Salway, “Not Sorry” (Cincinnati Review)
  • Kim Samsin, “World’s Finest” (Matchbook)
  • Noa Sivan, “The End of the World” (Synaesthesia Magazine)
  • Rachel Smith, “What I Now Know” (Flash Frontier)
  • Rachel Smith, “Glossectomy” (Menicus)
  • Joe Squance, “The Seeds of Things” (Cease, Cows)
  • Elizabeth Stix, “Tsunami” (Southampton Review)
  • Paul Strohm, “Masculinities” (West Marin Review)
  • Xenia Taiga, “Princesses” (Synaesthesia Magazine)
  • Kaj Tanaka, “The Hair Child” (Bending Genres)
  • Sharon Telfer, “My Father Comforts Me in the Form of Birds” (Reflex Fiction Magazine)
  • Jamie Thunder, “The Central Line Has Severe Delays” (Spelk)
  • Cathy Ulrich, “The Delicate Art of Ikebana” (Barren Magazine)
  • TM Upchurch, “There Will Be No Lace” (Flashback Fiction)
  • Zach VandeZande, “Making an Illegal U Turn on 15th near Union” (Monkeybicycle)
  • Elisabeth Ingram Wallace, “Satin Nightwear for Women Irregular” (Bath Flash Fiction Award)
  • Clare Weze, “Helping” (Reflex Fiction)
  • Charmaine Wilkerson, “The Laundry Room Comes First” (Fiction Southeast)
  • Benjamin Woodard, “Half Tank” (Atticus Review)
  • Luke Wortley, “Reverse Field Trip” (Longleaf)
  • Tara Isabel Zambrano, “Feeding Time” (Okay Donkey)
  • Tara Isabel Zambrano, “New Old” (The Southampton Review)
  • Tara Isabel Zambrano, “Snowstorm” (Atticus Review)
  • C Pam Zhang, “Braindrain” (Paper Darts)

microfiction.com