Flash Fiction

kaleidoscopeNo flashy words:
Review of Eating My Words: 2014

THE NATIONAL FLASH FICTION DAY ANTHOLOGY

Edited by Callum Kerr
Angela Readman
Amy McKelden

One of the beauties of an anthology of flash fiction is that it gives exposure to such a large number of different authors. It was good to see this, rather than many entries by a few authors. Furthermore, the anthology included a section of micro-fiction entries, a form requiring even more skill if a reader’s involvement is to be engaged.

I reviewed last year’s anthology, Scraps, ScrapsBkand approached the present one with happy anticipation. I didn’t have the advantage of seeing the foreword – I only had the e-book.

This year’s title is appealing and apt. It refers to the theme set the writers – The Senses. There was a wide variety in how this was interpreted, and a degree of variety in the quality of writing.

The opening story was totally enchanting in its reversal of perceptions of the rat. With a good arc and subtle references, Becky Tipper’s story set a promising tone for the book.

At the end of the book the winners of the micro-fiction competition displayed the economy of words against the ingenuity of concept.

In the remainder, the following stories pleased me particularly. Different readers will have different preferences, but those stories that feel complete in the read surely master the genre. It doesn’t have to be a surprise ending, but it does need to make sense of the beginning and/or display a clear concept. This blog emphasises the importance of character in writing.  In flash fiction, a character must make an immediate impact.

The imagery in Tasty – a story about pornography – works well, and the conclusion is both believable and restorative. The concept of ‘unfinished stories’ in Dress Sense ensured that the issue of loss and stasis would resonate after the read. This was a sensitive piece as was the much longer story by Sarah Hilary. She paired two unlikely characters and set them forth for an imagined future.

There were several sad reads, and a wry one, Show Don’t Tell, which made me smile. Nik Perring’s story was even more wry. A girl with an addiction to giving up and her boyfriend’s understandable responses suggested two interesting characters who would hold their own in a longer story, but nevertheless the piece had a satisfying conclusion. A wider smile still for What We Do In Our Sleep. It really pays to consider the ridiculous sometimes, for it can illustrate a point – in this case, hypochondria – more clearly than a set of descriptions. Tino Prinzi uses dialogue well and wittily here.

I did balk at some hefty wordiness (“feculent metastatic lesions”) in Seven Breaths, but the psychology of the piece was well understood. Another insightful piece, more about coming to fruition than coming of age, was Launch Pad. It launches the reader into a vivid classroom scene and slyly comments on adult expectations. Handle with Care was itself beautifully handled, displaying sensitivity and poignancy in a piece that explores a child’s revulsion against cruelty.

Michael Marshall Smith totally encapsulated the theme of The Senses in his story, Half-Life, with a very clever plotline. I admired this, as I did the well-written Chekhov’s Gun, for imaginative use of the theme.

Eating      EATING MY WORDS 

It is hard to pick out some stories for mention when there are many that make the purchase of this anthology worthwhile. Death, love, lust, thwarted ambition – all are aspects of the human condition that these writers consider. All the more surprising, then, to read about swallowed kittens, chemically induced sensation removal and the beauty of being an oyster.

Long live the flash fiction genre.

Literary competitions

jumps

Short Story competitions

COULD YOU BE A WINNER?

I think winning stories have to capture the heart as well as the attention of the judges. I’ve rarely read a winning story without feeling I know why it was chosen. Usually the setting is striking, the structure is very satisfying, the ending unexpected and the main character convincing. I’m saying nothing out of the ordinary, I know, but it’s as well to have these features of winning stories in the back of your mind as you start to write yours. Some writers give up competitions at the first or second failure to get on the shortlist.

However, some rehash their stories or even leave them as they are and keep submitting them to different competitions, on the basis that ‘liking’ a story and finding it surpasses other good entries is very subjective.  

I reviewed one winner, Anne Corlett, on a previous post (See Review: H.E.Bates winner)  Her story is well worth reading for that structure, setting, believable character (s), and unexpected ending, a thoroughly satisfying read. 

It is not always previous competition winners or successful journalists turning to fiction who win. There have been some notable first timers who have run the contestants out of the ground. The main thing is to have a go. The writing towards winning is good practice, and you can regard it as just that. Robert the Bruce would have been entering every competition until chosen, egged on by his spider. So, try, try, try again if you haven’t been successful so far.

These competitions have April deadlines.

APRIL

11 April — Litro magazine Theme: Augmented Reality Max. length: 3,000 words
26 April — Felixstowe Book Festival Short Story Competition Theme of Conflict 
30 April — 13th International Short Story Conference Story Contest fee: €10 (theme: The Braids of Identity) 
30 April — The Bristol prize   any subject. Max. length 4,000 words
30 April — E.M. Koeppel Short Fiction Contest 
30 April – Fiction Uncovered 2014 
30 April — Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest 
The more entrants, the more money to finance the next competition. Let me know if you are one of the short-listed or even better.

Towards a super-blog?

Eye-catching and complex. This is the kind of illustration that attracts my attention. I’ll scroll down if I see something like this. Ideally, a blog post needs a visual with immediate appeal.

complexKalei_opt

Let me start by emphasizing that this post is a personal view. I don’t have the blogging qualifications to give the answer to my title, but I am a reader of blogs, so my reactions to blogs won’t be unique.

In this post I am highlighting four blogs I have come across and followed with delight – delight because I cherish mastery. Each of these blogs, despite being so different from each other, displays a mastery of the chosen field: blogging. It’s become apparent to me that blogging is a new art form, and one that can make use of existing art forms as well as new technology.

This is my personal criteria for a blog to be excellent: it has to attract the eye, serve an immediate need for specific information, be clever in its use of the web-site technology, to entertain and be memorable.

I am sure there are thousands of wonderful blogs, but I’ve been too wrapped up in managing my own blog struggles to surf a lot. I was handicapped by not having been a blog visitor before having to create one. It was like being told to trampoline before I’d learned to jump. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop me noting quality as soon as my blogging trawls began.

The following blogs each offer something special, and they’ve each paid due attention to the appearance and ease of use of their blog. Furthermore, each demonstrates commitment to the work of blogging and the responsibility of delivering quality content.

The Inky Fool. My prize for erudition. http://inkyfool.com   Mark Forsyth generously presents information on words, where they might be found or used, their derivation or intricate, fascinating details about them. Example posts:  an examination of the origin, role and place of Sherlock Holmes in literature; the Anglo-Saxon version of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Wordiness can be great fun. It’s a wonderful site, and incidentally makes you want to rush off and buy these unique books. The blog is impressively elegant and is easy to negotiate.Inky Fool

The Bloggess.  http://thebloggess.com   My prize for hilarity. Jenny has a huge following and a book that developed by demand as result of her entertaining blog. (Enviable position!) She appeals to all our rebellious and unworthy urges, provides a fun outlet for all the cringeworthy mistakes anyone might have made and states outrageous things with a jokey corollary so that no-one could reasonably complain. (Unreasonable ones do). Example posts are shown, but these can’t do justice to the fun of Jenny’s discourse.

AnneRAllen. http://annerallen.blogspot.co.uk. My prize for quality writing – as it happens, about writing. There are many writing blogs, often with advice that is very ‘samey’.  This blog convinces with sensible, knowledgeable advice, well written articles and links to useful information. Example article =        12 Signs Your Novel isn’t Ready to Publish    The presentation is clean and spare. The opinions do not appear to be derivative, as is true of many writers’ blogs. I’m a Brit, so in British terms, AnneRAllen is a Liberty’s as opposed to a British Home Stores writers’ blog.

Morgen Bailey.   http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/ My prize for multi-tasking, and a separate prize for responsiveness. The presentation is of layers upon layers of related sections. The multitude of key words to click and explore fairly represents the true multi-tasker. Look at how comprehensive this is:

I’ve admired, enjoyed and explored these blogs. I know there will be many others of excellence, but these provide good examples of successful blogging. They provide a real service.

Regarding my own two blogs, I’ve been told my other one is (not Rolls Royce, lol, but) unique. It provides no service! It developed out of a mischevious attempt to retain some privacy while still giving exposure to my book. The Me-Time Tales blog has the characters do the writing. I let them take charge and dominate me. Now the blog has taken on a life and narrative of its own and has received to date 5,500 visits in its five months of life. Since it doesn’t have articles, guests and so on, I guess it will stay in its weird form until it dies. Everything has a natural life and I am prepared for this. http://fictionalcharacterswriting.blogspot.com

And this blog? It will be some time before I have learned all the skills necessary to develop it into the superblog I would like – a resource for character-based writing, and to discuss writing in process.  Meanwhile, I continue to search for blog masters and to learn from them.

ThreeHeadedWoman

Do leave a comment if you have learned something useful about blogging. 

Re-writing the novel: lightbulb moment

In a previous post (Reproducing macro events in micro terms) I wrote about my novel, A Relative Invasion. I wanted to convey that, although a child is the protagonist and the problem (rivalry) occurs in childhood, there is a parallel between the emotions here and those on a huge scale. This post is about another aspect of the novel – a technical problem for which I may now have a way forward

lightbulbmoment

Writers will know how you can come back and back to a novel until finally the problem becomes clear. Sometimes a solution to a problem unexpectedly clicks into place. In this particular case, I didn’t even know I was looking for a solution. I only knew I was seeking further improvement to the structure. After several rewritings and countless reworking, I am still dissatisfied. It’s no bad thing to recognise that something is not quite right and to persevere.

A few agents have rejected this book because it is written in the child’s voice. I could change this, but after thinking of alternatives, I have remained committed to it. It is very difficult to capture the thinking of a child as he grows from the age of five years to adulthood, getting the internal language and the mental focus right through middle childhood, teenage to young adulthood, especially when the third person is chosen as the means of telling the story. You are in the child’s mindset with the child’s focus. I do recognise that some readers wonder who the target reader is. Is it a child’s book? The pace suggests otherwise and there are constant implications about adult behaviour seen through the child’s eyes. Can it be for adults when chapter after chapter shows the experience of a child? (Does his world matter enough? Does his viewpoint count?)

In carrying out research involving human behaviour, it seemed to me healthy to make the initial approach with a child’s mind, open to possible questions, let alone answers. Therefore, I am sticking with a novel that has a child as a protagonist and a child who shows the reader a world from his perspective. The reader is adult, s/he can form different opinions/further understanding to the child’s fragmentary view.

However, something in the novel isn’t quite right. There is some basic lever or pin-hole missing.  I need a device for letting the reader look down (from adulthood) at least briefly but in a systematic form, as well as up (from childhood) throughout the plotline.

Have any of you experienced that lightbulb moment? Do comment below.

I ‘finished’ the novel three years ago. It has been undergoing rewritings ever since. But last week, in walking from one room to another, a propos of nothing it seemed, the device came to me. I could head each chapter with the news heading for that date. This will put the ‘adult concerns’ in the mind of the reader as s/he reads about the child’s. Now I have to get down to another rewrite that utilises this. When I have finished, I will report back. I may be gone some time . . .

Meantime, the marketing of a very different book, my collection of ironic short stories, is dominating time that should be spent in writing and reviewing. When I feel frustrated I remind myself that each activity refreshes the writing process in different ways. More of these in a later post.

Tea-breaks for mature women and curious men

http://fictionalcharacterswriting.blogspot.com

Distant Setting, Close Encounter

Indonesiamap_opt_opt-1

My last post (Jakarta Three Ways) was a review of +Ramadan Sky by Nichola Hunter. ‘A contemporary twist on a classic story of forbidden love, set in Jakarta, capital city of Indonesia.’

RamadanSkycover_2One of the attractions of the novel is its setting , seen not from the tourist’s point of view, but from inside the heart of Jakarta. In asking Nichola about the writing of this book I found that –under a different name – she has been a freelance travel writer for some years. This threw an interesting light on the dawning of the novel.

JakartaMbike

Nichola said:

“Every editor’s tips page for travel writers begins with rule number one–write in the first person. After a few years of writing and reading travel articles I got tired of this rule. Many travel pieces start with the writer getting into a taxi/limousine, tuk tuk/rickshaw and the driver says “Where you go lady?” which sets the scene for the reader and then the driver disappears from the story. I always had an idea to turn this on its head one day and make one of those caricatured drivers the main character in a story instead of a recurring backdrop. Then it was one small step further to get the driver to actually be the narrator.”

Another attraction is the three perspectives.  The westerner teacher, seen as rich and powerful by the Jakartans, her chauffeur, the handsome but feckless young driver and his traditional fiancée – the point of view of each of them in this tainted triangle clearly and fairly shown.

Nichola said: “I did not want any of the characters in this story to be victims, and I think that as an author I was tough on the characters – they all had choices, even within the confines of their individual circumstances and they made choices that were self-serving and even ignoble. I think that’s why they were not “likeable”.  The reader is the only one who really knows what is going on and can watch the characters tell one story to the reader and another to the other protagonists. This was especially fun as one of the character is such a liar.”

The novel itself has an interesting journey. I saw it first on +Authonomy.com , a writer’s site. It can take a book literally years to reach the top 5 where the ‘prize’ is a full critique from a +Harper Collins editor.  Ramadan Sky, however, was noticed by Authonomy well before this. Nichola was contacted and subsequently a contract was made.

“When I first posted Ramadan Sky on Authonomy, I only had half of my book. I thought I had some nice writing there, but it was basically a very long short story. I was a bit stuck on where to go with it, and worried that it would end up in my sock drawer for all eternity. Uploading it onto Authonomy was almost an act of desperation—I had to do something.

I really did benefit from advice from several authonomy members reviewing it and confidence from other writers’ enthusiasm for Ramadan Sky. It was chosen as “One to watch” after a few months on the site, which was a real boost and helped me to get cracking. At the same time I lost my job due to a restructure and I suddenly found I had the time to write for several hours every day. The story doubled in size and the book rose to a rating of 89 and then stayed between there and 120 for several months  (ratings begin at around 5,000)

As a new job was by then taking up a lot of my time, I took my book down from the website.  A few days later I had an email from Authonomy. “Where is your book – do you already have representation? If not, can you please send the full manuscript.

After a long wait I got the phone call I had been dreaming about for so many years.

The shift from manuscript to book was an amazing experience. Seeing the difference between the manuscript and the final product really made me want to tell other emerging writers how essential a professional editor is. There are so many ways that s/he can help your work shine. “

Many readers have contacted the author to express their enjoyment. There’s an excitement when a novel opens onto an unfamiliar world. Jakarta has its own culture and specific problems, which Nichola Hunter highlights through her narrative.

In a later post, I will be discussing another novel from a distant setting.  Set in Japan, it is the forthcoming Ginza, by Catherine Strong, short-listed for the Luke Bitmead prize.

Jakarta Three Ways.

 Underground temple in Jakarta. Three routes downwards?       Image

Today’s post is A REVIEW OF RAMADAN SKY by Australian author, NICHOLA HUNTER.

It’s a while since I read the beginning of Ramadan Sky on the Authonomy site and became immediately captivated by the young boy suffering patiently with an abscess and asking little. Anyone who has experienced that unique agony will be hooked. The environment of Jakarta and its limited resources for comfort is immediately set. So is the culture of patient fortitude in the face of painful circumstances.

The book has undergone revisions before publication and now begins with a prologue that tells the end of the story. Normally I find prologues a mistake but not this in this case. It sums up exactly how the narrator feels, how any of her readers would feel for her at the end of this three-way story. I call it that because there are three main characters but one story. Or you could say there are three stories which are running the same path.

Vic, the no-pushover female narrator from Australia, her young lover and his fiancée, native to the city play out their roles and in so doing, reveal for us in painful and telling detail, the corruption, poverty and interdependence which is that part of Indonesia.

It didn’t alter my enjoyment that none of the characters are truly likeable, even the peripheral ones. I found the main characters well-rounded, with positive and negative aspects to their personalities making them all the more real.

Vic has come to Jakarta to teach English, as do many educated native English speakers.  She is not young, not particularly feminine, so the name suits. A good choice and indicator from the start. She does not look for love, but in seeking a guide and chauffeur more or less from necessity, finds a young man who gradually enters her life. They have a passionate affair, despite their age difference, his impending marriage and his fiancee’s dependence upon that fact. This girl is under pressure from her family,  who will benefit from the marriage. The family benefit far more, in the development of the plot, from the very means of the threat ahead – such a strong and ironic twist.

The skill of the author lies in her ability to allow our empathy with each of these characters despite the fact that their personal motivations and needs are in competition with each other.

By the end of the novel we can predict exactly what will happen to each of the three in the future. We are not told. We can draw it clearly from the narrative.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable story, enriched by its insight into Indonesian culture. Super stuff, read avidly at one sitting without even rising for a glass of wine.

The novel is published by Authonomy and is available via Amazon.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Publisher: Authonomy (26 Sep 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • ASIN: B00DAK6US8

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