Sunday, 6 July 2014

Flash Fiction - a retrospective

With the publication last month of "28 Far Cries" I've written and published almost 130 flash stories now. I thought I'd look back and decide which were my ten personal favourites from my first 3 collections and talk about them a little bit and link to them if you wanted to read them. It was really hard to narrow the list down to just ten, especially as the stories, themes and styles cover such a diverse range that it's hard to compare wildly different stories against one another to decide which I prefer. But here goes anyway and in no particular order.

1) "A Series Of False Endings" from "Long Stories Short"
I thought I'd start with a story that was all about endings! With the flash limit of 1000 words you don't have time for setting up stories in the beginning, nor do you have much scope for extensive descriptions. But all stories have an ending, twist or otherwise ( I blogged on the twist in fiction and got a writer friend to give the opposite view). So here is a tale entirely constructed from endings, as its title suggests. I thought of all the typical hollywood film endings, those iconic final scenes for the hero to take their bow and from that fabricated a dark story that all the time was moving to the only possible, final ending. 

A structure I use quite often in my flash is to take a central image and then consider it from several different angles. Like turning a gemstone in the light to see all the different facets illuminated. In this case I had the image of the lightened colour of the material of am armchair where a person sitting in it had worn away the fabric in the outline of their body and that led me to think about the tidemark in baths and other 'outlines' that mark the human body's impression, but which are themselves hollow. It's a sad tale as befits the emptiness of the missing body that makes such marks from the cradle to the grave. 

3) "Two Up, One Down" from "52FF"
I attended an event by author Tom McCarthy's fake intellectual The Necronautical Society in which the Necronaut panel of three grilled an architect and a psychoanalyst about the mental construction of space. Even though the framing was a spoof, the content was very stimulating and this flash tale emerged from it. It's about how we imprint on our houses, our living spaces, with little spoors and traces of our being and what happens when the inhabitants go their separate ways. A shared house mirrored the war between the couple and continued that combat even when one of the partners had moved out, because she still 'inhabited' the cracks and fibre of the house. It has become one of my favourite pieces to read live because it's packed with slow burning emotion.

4) "Just Aphasia Going Through" from "16FF"
I love words that mutate into other words simply through changing a letter. And yet the context of the sentence allows the reader to work out what the word mutated from as well as what it has morphed into. This allows reverberations and layers to seep through and I hit on the conceit of a tumour pressing in on the language centres of the brain which meant when the character reached for certain words, they invariably pulled out the wrong one. This came about after a relative was diagnosed with cancer that had metastasised and reached the brain. 

5) "Basildon Bond" from "Long Stories Short"
I was always intrigued by women who write to life sentence killers in prison and form non-physical relationships with them. I wanted to explore this but decided to do it from the point of view of the prisoner, to see what he got out of it and to try and tease out what might be at play in the psychology of the woman. The story is a letter from the prisoner and I refer to it as my contribution to the epistolary literary tradition, although I'm not sure there's ever been a story quite as dark as this in the tradition. Now a staple of my live performances.

6) "If It Were Thee" from "52FF"
This originally started life as me trying to write a story in the second person singular, but somewhere down the line the second person was totally erased and it became a story about this erasure of any person singular or plural. So "I" became "it" and "you" became "thee" and then it became a story about an artificial intelligence and the linguistic programming by humans to deny it having any sense of self. This story shows the power of language and its capacity to strip away identity. 

7) "Strains" from "16FF"
This is in my list because it's one of the the most intimate, inner stories of them all I think. It didn't start from that writing urge, rather it was an interest in the medical theories that babies in the womb not only respond to music but can recognise it after their born. So I speculated whether the music was an exact recollection, or whether there was a qualitative difference through being heard through the membrane of the mother's body and hearing it once born. Then I began thinking about other sounds being pure or distorted, such as music boxes, ice cream van chimes, the difference between hearing your own voice and then hearing it played back on a recording. The ending is one of complete fiction, but somehow this story feels very personal to me.

8) "Basic Geometry"from "52FF"
It's hard in some ways to pin this story down and yet in other ways it seems simple and clear. I was attending a poetry event where a friend of mine was reading and she used thew word "fuselage" in a poem. My mind went into overdrive with associations to that word, as often it does from a single word. "Fuselage" can only apply to airplanes, which is unusual in a noun to be quite so restricted. And when people say planes to me, I always return to thinking about 9/11. I myself have not stepped foot on a plane since that dark day. So I'm sat there in a poetry event, thinking about 9/11 and the action of those planes, but I've transposed the word "fuselage" into one made from Lego bricks. And I had this image of building a giant tower of Lego and then building a plane that crashed into it as a child plays out these dread, enormous images in their imaginative play, because the real life version is too difficult for our imaginations to contemplate readily. From that kernel the piece developed its other facets. I've yet to perform this one live, but I have got as far as printing it out in anticipation of reading it one day.

9) "Abacus" from "Long Stories Short"
Some of my stories are quite experimental in form and this is one of my favourite examples. It's several small vignettes based around the different number of limbs in various scenarios; a one armed war veteran, the sixteen arms pulling oars in a rowing eight; the eight limbs of an octopus; the six arms of a Hindu deity and so on. I think there's a lot of room for readers to find their own resonances from vignette to vignette, ones I won't necessarily be aware of.


10) "The Caller To The Bingo Caller's House Calls House" from "52FF"
Another story organised by numbers. I was struck by the poetry and the violence of bingo calling rhymes and that formed the basis of this story. I like the fact that there are no real paragraphs, or that each sentence forms a self-contained paragraph. This is great fun to do live as I hope the video shows.

You can buy any of the three collections on Kindle from Amazon

"28 Far Cries" is available in both print and on kindle.


Denise said...

Am glad to see my own personal favourite here. It's always interesting to hear about the author's take on their own writing.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Well done - you've written some wonderful stories!

Sulci Collective said...

Many thanks Icy