Sunday, 13 April 2014

It's All About the Flash

Come on down to the Shakespeare tomorrow evening (Monday 14th April) to hear the flash edition of BristolCon Fringe, with me, Louise Gethin, Jonathan L Howard, Pauline Masurel, Cheryl Morgan, Justin Newland, Jonathan Pinnock and Pete Sutton. Eight readers, each with a word budget of around 1000 words to spend on entertaining you with speculative fiction in flash-sized portions.

Art by Claire Hutt
Last month I came across the Visual Verse site. Each month a picture is posted and writers are asked to submit prose or poetry inspired by the image with the constraint that the piece falls between 50 and 500 words and is written in under an hour. My contribution, "The Door Closes", allowed me to try out a slightly different narrative style, using a script form for dialogue. I've been delighted with the feedback, which included a couple of comments from Denise Nestor, the artist responsible for the prompt image: "Strangely close to the story I had in mind when I made this drawing." "I love how you ended it. Dark and mysterious, just as fairy tales should be."

I also wrote a piece about flash fiction, "Flash Finish", that appeared as a guest post on Pete Sutton's Bristol Book Blog. One of the most overlooked joys of flash fiction is the feeling of completion — being half-finished doesn't even come close (or halfway) to what you feel when you've finished something. Flash fiction allows you to have that experience — and learn from the act of completion — more often than from longer forms of fiction.

With nearly 400 submissions, judging this year's NFFD micro-fiction competition was always going to be tough. The tales may be short, but you still have to read and digest each one to give it a fair chance. When there's hundreds of them, the effort still adds up. And it was just as hard this year as last year to narrow down my favourites. Reading through them the first time I thought it was pretty obvious which were my favourites... until I had to pick 25 of them in ranked order. Turns out what I had not initially thought of as a packed field came in at well over 25. The judges' results were then combined, sorted, cogitated over and algorithmically digested to produce a shortlist and, after further judicial harassment via personal top 10, the winner. Congratulations to the winners and all those who made the shortlist, as well as those who submitted to a competition for the first time.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Flash Fiction: Wrecked

He was an unusual find, there at sunrise by the high-water mark, embedded in a four-poster wreck, tucked cosily into a seaweed-brocade net, a drinking-horn shell to his ear like a pillow, like a hearing aid, like a seafood cornucopia that had missed his mouth, a mouth half open beneath half-closed eyes.

Alive or dead? Dead or alive? She was answered by a cough, a snort and a crescendo of snores, waves of sleep breaking into foam, rolling in from a deeper dreamy sea. The seventh wave washed him onto the waking shore, his eyes half opened.

"Flotsam or jetsam?" she asked, head cocked to match his sleepy skew.


"Which are you?"

"I... I don't know. I don't think I'm either. I mean," he said, removing the shell from the side of his head, casting it into his cradle, "this is the wreck, not me."

"So why are you here?"

"I... I don't know. I remember drinking... drinking a lot." His hand reached up to the side of his head as if to restore the shell, as if its removal had undammed a dam, unplugged a plug, unhinged a hangover.

She passed him a bubble pack of tablets, part of some lost shipment spilt across the beach just yesterday, studying him as he popped two and swallowed.

"It's OK, you can keep them," she said when he offered back the remaining unburst bubbles, "flotsam." She continued along the shore leaving him in her wake. She would not claim him.

"Wrecked" was first published with Flash Frontier. More background here.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

In and Out of the Liminal

And so off to Weston-super-Mare for the evening, picking up Joanne Hall and Gareth L Powell en route. As road trips go this wasn't quite On the Road, set to leave an indelible mark on the literary landscape, but it was still fairly literary. We were off to read at an invitation-only Liminal event hosted by Karen Blake, with Chris Knight and Becky Condron also reading. Here's what happened and here's how we looked (photos taken by Keith Ramsey).

My "dark wit and menacing delivery" darkly menaced three published stories —  "Authenticity", "Fallen Apples" and "Possession" — plus three newer ones.

And speaking of three and published, three flash fictions of mine have recently been appeared online: "Checking in at the Hotel Cantor", my entry into this year's Lascaux 250 competition; "The Kylling", a drabble and a half of Scandi crime appearing at Cafe Aphra; and "Detitled", a 273-word metafiction published in the Miniature Magazine.

In competition news, my entry into NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge didn't make any impression on the first round — clearly my mastery of historical fiction involving ballerinas and secret clubs needs some work — but my entry into the Flashbang contest has made the longlist.

If you're interested in reading more of my stories, almost all the ones that have appeared online are also linked from my Pinterest page. I also republish stories on this blog a few months to a year after they first appear in print or online.

Monday, 10 March 2014


I haven't pursued photography in the last couple of years as actively as I did during the year of the Street Photography Now project, but I continue to take pictures and, every now and then, enter something into a competition. There were two sites in particular that I submitted pictures to, one of which seems to have been discontinued and the other seems to be stuck in stasis.

The Pictures2Win site ran multiple competitions, and I managed second place in a couple. The quality range was broad enough that the good shots were very good and the poor ones made me feel very good. Late last year the site wound down to undergo a revamp... but never came back. I still keep a flickr set of my entries. Here are the two images that won second place (and some cash) in their respective competitions:

Ever Watchful

Under a Bamberg Bridge

An altogether different competition was the monthly competition hosted by Karl Taylor Photography, which has, since last summer, been promising a new competition — to date, an unfulfilled promise. My entries to date can be found in this flickr set. The calibre and professionalism of photographs in this competition was generally very high, so having two selected for the competition galleries was two more than I ever realistically hoped for:

Building through Steel

At Home in Hong Kong

As an aside, a couple years after taking this image in Hong Kong I came across Michael Wolf's Architecture of Density project, which gives greater justice, depth and breadth to the idea — and similarly puts many of my other unshared Hong Kong pictures in the shade!

Friday, 28 February 2014

Flash Fiction: Immune

It must be November by now, maybe December. I should be thankful. And I am.

I'm thankful for the silence.

I'm thankful for the peace.

I'm thankful for the space.

Yes, even after all that has happened, I'm thankful.

For the silence, the silence after the screaming — of the panic, of the dying, of the fleeing, of the caught.

For the peace, the peace after the madness, after the riots, after the street warfare, after the virus that caused it all and, ultimately, ended it all.

For the space, the space to think and breathe now that everyone has gone.

"Immune" was first published in The Were-Traveler's drabble issue. More background here.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Flash Fiction: Fallen Apples

As far as she had ever been. The gate. Breathless, running, eyes wide. Lungs burning, breath like smoke, snow chilling the bruises on her fair skin. Stumbling, fleeing through the trees, the cold touching her only to drive her on.

As far as she had ever been. From the house. Since they had first caught her, taken her, brought her. Against her will. Before her will and the world that lay far beyond the gate had become no more than marks in memory, memories of a stepmother, a father, a sister and a school of friends, memories scrawled over by captivity and things that had become normal and everyday that should never be so. A stepmother whose kindness mirrored her beauty, whose love for her stepdaughters dwarfed the meagre love of a father for his own. A father whose anger and indifference she could now forgive, but had driven her in her innocence to confide in her neighbour. A neighbour whose confidence was false, whose touch was unforgiveable, whose intent had driven her into the woods.

She had fled day and night. Fled until she had been found among the fallen apples, in a bed of autumn leaves.

She had fled day and night. Fled and lost her way, to be found but taken.

So many times. Tried so many times to escape. One of the seven had always seen her, caught her, taken her back, hurt her. She would hide behind her eyelids.

So many times. But last night had given new cause, new opportunity. They had drunk and they had hurt her. Excess had the seven men sleeping into the afternoon, scattered around the broken house like the crooked beer cans they left on the floorboards by her bed. Excess and carelessness had left her hands untied.

Never seen the gate. Never been this far from the house. Never got far enough.

Never seen the gate, never known it was there. She paused before it, looking back through the trees and falling flakes at the smoke and flames rising from the pyre of the house. She turned away, running a new path through the snow.

"Fallen Apples" was first published with The Treacle Well. More background here.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Keeping It Brief

The previous post discussed January's spoken word happenings, but January's publications are also worth a mention. Let's start with "Star Signs", a coffee-fuelled lab-lit tale of astrology, cosmology and romance over at Then there's "Remembrance of Things Past", which has now found its way into The Spec Fiction Hub library. It has previously been podcast with Litro, published with The Fabulist and gone down well at BristolCon Fringe. Last, and in some ways least, three 6-word flashes appeared on MorgEn Bailey's Writing Blog:

Scissors on shirts, "I do" undone.
Only an apple, yet all fell.
Her hand now cold, he'd call.

Speaking of micro-fictions, the National Flash Fiction Day micro-fiction competition is now open. Once again I'm on the judging panel, so I urge you to enter, but please don't send me anything in advance for comment. The word limit is 100 and the closing date for entries is Sunday 9th March.

After mentioning BristolCon Fringe and flash fiction, it seems worth mentioning Flash in a Fringe, 14th April, at The Shakespeare. Just sorting out the final line-up, but it looks like it's going to be a fine cross-section of what Bristol and the South West has to offer in speculative fiction, condensed into a series of flashes.