Friday 17 January 2014

Flash Fiction: Authenticity

"Clarabel, may I just start by congratulating you. First day and your exhibition is already a success, the critics are abuzz."

"Thank you."

"These paintings are something of a departure from your previous work. More abstract, more violent, yet at the same time more vital."

"I'm trying to cut deeper, to capture the essence of life."

"Let me describe for our listeners this first piece, It's Over. A gentle background of broad brush strokes and flurries in light colours, with dramatic sprays of dark red arcing across it. Conceptual, yet deeply emotional. Was there a particular inspiration?"

"The paintings here are all about endings. This came from ending the relationship with my boyfriend."

She'd been staring at the painting for hours, her mind as blank as she wished the canvas to be. He'd walked in, joking about suffering for her art. Mockery that hit the wrong note, a note that ended in gurgling silence and arterial spray. She'd surprised both of them.

"This next piece, Stepsister, is executed in the same vein, but as a triptych. Any particular challenges?"

"Yes, placement was difficult."

Difficult, but she'd managed to get a perplexed Annie in the right position before pulling the knife.

"With such a large body of work, you must have encountered logistical issues?"


The bodies. Dozens. So many.

"What next for you?"

"One last painting in this style, then I want to move on. I'll be putting myself into it."

"Clarabel, thank you for talking to us."

"Thank you."

"Authenticity" was first published as an entry into the Lascaux Flash contest. The story was written in response to the painting shown, "The Dive" by Heidi König. More background here.

Thursday 16 January 2014

From Deadlines to Darkness

The pressure of a deadline is often what is needed to get a story out of me. That happened with The Kraken Rises! at the Bristol Festival of Literature. It happened again with the Quantum Shorts competition and my entry "In the Garden of Uncertainty, and What Alice Found There", a competition whose deadline was no surprise to me, but which I decided to enter only at the last minute when the inspiration for an Alice-based take on quantum mechanics struck me. The deadline was brought forward for me by the necessity of boarding a long-haul flight.

Another deadline-driven event, but this time planned, was the second challenge of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. Given a brief, you have 48 hours to write a story in no more than 1000 words. The first round had been slightly outside my comfort zone — write a thriller — but that had obviously pushed me into coming up with something fresh as I came third in my group. Buoyed by that result and given a more comfortable brief — write a romantic comedy set in a planetarium, featuring a smoking pipe — I had high hopes for the second challenge. Sadly, although I was happy with my story, this comfort may not have provoked the writing to stand out as much as the previous one. I did pick up a point for it, but it was not enough to keep me near the head of the group to qualify for the next round. The good news, though, is that it was great fun and I now have two stories, by virtue of deadline, that I would not otherwise have had! (And one of them has already been accepted for publication.)

Speaking of publication, I've also had another couple of stories published. When it comes to stories, writers have favourite children — stories they like best for good reason, for some reason or for no reason. For whatever reason, these were two of mine. They'd both been well received at spoken-word events, and one had almost reached publication earlier in the year, but for whatever reason they'd struggled for acceptance. The first is "Ashes to Ashes, Mañana, Mañana", which was published by Kazka Press, a paying market, and the second is "Possession", which appeared as a #FridayFlash with Litro.

Both of these stories also had recent outings. Along with "Authenticity", I read "Possession" at Bristol Festival of Literature's Word Karaoke evening. Then, just before Christmas, Joanne Hall and I both read at the BristolCon Fringe. While Jo gave a sneak preview of her forthcoming novel, the second book in The Art of Forgetting series, I headed to the other end of the writing scale and read three short stories: "Remembrance of Things Past""Ashes to Ashes, Mañana, Mañana" and "Milk Teeth and Chocolate Eggs". Given the season, these were not exactly the cheeriest stories I could have chosen! But sometimes a little darkness is needed to appreciate the light.

If you'd like to recapture some of the spirit of that near-solstice darkness, you can listen to podcasts of the event: first, "Remembrance of Things Past" and "Ashes to Ashes, Mañana, Mañana"; second, "Milk Teeth and Chocolate Eggs" and then Q&A with me and Jo.