*I know it’s a coffee pot, technically, but I like it. Shhhhh.
SmokeLong is travelling! The SmokeLong on the Road blog series will be featuring video interviews with as many of its editors and contributors around the world as possible over the course of the year. This interview was recorded in January this year, while I was visiting my friend and SmokeLong’s Co-EIC, Christopher Allen, in a snow-carpeted Munich. As always, we approach it with deep seriousness and nobody does anything silly at all. Nope. Not us. http://www.smokelong.com/smokelong-on-the-road-a-video-interview-with-helen-rye/?fbclid=IwAR2LHUeWjD5XQ_2_i3TTKxPKO7MgUsACXwQEnDQWThC7OdIzpRnITnpqHXw
It’s February, and I’ve finally accepted that the New Year is over and 2019 is definitely here. It’s been cold for approximately 400 days and summer is an urban myth, but even so, this is an exciting year.
I was honoured to spend a couple of weeks in January co-editing the wonderful Ellipsis Zine LGBTQ+ anthology, Love/Pride. We read stories that were funny, moving, inventive, heartbreaking and beautiful. I can’t wait to see the finished book. The quality of submissions was stellar. We read blind, so we still don’t know who wrote the stories we didn’t take, but thank you, if you’re reading this. So many came very close to being included, and maybe on a different day we’d have made a different decision about some of those.
I’m about to start teaching a second Introduction to Creative Writing course through The Public House community education, and having had such a lovely group the first time round, I can’t wait to meet everyone. It should be a lot of fun.
I was in Germany/Austria last week and recorded an interview for the SmokeLong On The Road series, which will be up on social media in a week or two. In it Christopher Allen and I talk a bit about the experience of editing at SmokeLong and mess around a bit like the overgrown kids we slightly are. Beta watchers (best friends, kids, dogs, etc) have found it entertaining – hopefully they won’t be entirely alone.
At the end of March I’ll be at AWP, the American Association of Writers and Writing Programmes’ gigantic conference, which attracts about 10,000 visitors a year and this year is held in Portland, Oregon. SmokeLong doesn’t have a table at the book fair, this time – instead we are having two readings on the Thursday evening featuring a cast of flash fiction legends: Dennis Norris II, Meg Pillow Davis, Gwen Kirby, Nancy Au, Josh Denslow, Kathy Fish, Tyrese Colman and Sherrie Flick. This is crazy-exciting. I’m also reading at an off-site event, and we’ll be around and about the city interviewing people, too.
In June, the third UK Flash Fiction Festival is back in Bristol. After the unexpected wild success of the makeshift karaoke sessions we organised last year (with, again, deepest apologies to anyone we might have kept awake on the first night – we did not realise), I have been officially put in charge of Entertainments, this year, which means that there will be proper karaoke in the bar on the Friday and Saturday evenings – a separate building, so there’ll be no noise disturbance for anyone who prefers the quieter life. This, as anyone who joined in last year will attest, will be THE BEST FUN.
Then, in September, I’ll be starting a two-year MFA in creative writing at the UEA, working with some utterly wonderful human beings and brilliant writers. I live very close to the campus so often go and read submissions or edit stories in a university cafe. I am so very happy to be going to study and write there as a student, not just a neighbour. I have never been to university, and I never thought I’d be going to study on such a legendary programme.
That’s probably about as much excitement as I can honestly take at one time, so maybe that will be it for 2019. I have a story coming out in one of my favourite journals in March, and one which just made the longlist in the Mslexia flash contest. I need to submit more. I need to WRITE more. I’m working on it. See you somewhere this year, I hope, lovely humans.
A few weeks ago someone posted in a Facebook writers’ group about a flash fiction competition which had published guidelines which specifically excluded LGBTQ themes, putting stories about love and identity in the same list as graphic violence, profanity and pornography.
This kind of blatant, open discrimination is not something I’d seen in flash fiction before. The organisation concerned was one not normally associated with flash writing – in fact, nobody we knew had ever heard of them.
Flash writers are a close-knit and supportive community, in general, and do not take kindly to such offensive treatment of us, our friends and family. More than ever, in the current political climate, it is important that this kind of discrimination is challenged. My brilliant friend Christopher Allen (SmokeLong Co-EIC) and I started a protest campaign on Twitter, joined by dozens of outraged fellow writers.
Although the protests apparently had almost no impact on the stance of the competition’s organiser, they did bring out a beautiful demonstration of love and solidarity within the literary community. Contests have been set up in response to the discriminatory one, to celebrate LGBTQ+ writing and writers, fighting hate with love. And Steve Campbell, the editor of Ellipsis Zine, responded by asking if Chris and I would edit the next Ellipsis anthology, which he would call Love, Pride, and dedicate entirely to LGBTQ+ writers and stories.
Submissions open 29th November for stories by LGBTQ+ writers, or celebrating LGBTQ+ characters. Details here: http://www.ellipsiszine.com/five/ We will be reading blind. Please send us your best, most rainbowy work. Can’t wait to start reading.
Unexpected and terrific news last week that my story, Reunion, published in the Ellipsis Zine Two anthology, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Casually waited almost a whole twenty-four hours before updating my Twitter bio, because, y’know. Playing it cool. Yay! I had to put together a writer CV this week, and it gave me a little warm glow to be able to add this to it. THANK YOU.
Last weekend was the Bristol Short Story Prize ceremony at the beautiful, cathedral-like Reading Room of the Bristol Central Library. Last year I went as the guest of one of my best writing and workshopping buddies, Stephanie Hutton, whose stunning story, Born From Red, made the shortlist and 2017 anthology.
This time, travelling alone, I spent fourteen hours on public transport, got lost in the city centre about eleven times, shared a vegan flapjack with a very friendly pigeon and ultimately took shelter in a cafe/bar from the small hurricane that took to the streets for the Saturday afternoon. It was well worth it. The Bristol Prize is run by some absolutely lovely humans and the sense of occasion at both of the ceremonies I’ve attended was something special.
I was so delighted to find my story of love and grief and war and displacement, Transposition, had been awarded joint third prize, alongside a story called Little Yellow Planes by the brilliant Brooklyn writer Zeus Sumra. The idea for Transposition – a chess term that has other layers of meaning – came from a prompt in Kit de Waal’s workshop at the 2017 UK flash fiction festival and I spent about nine months writing and rewriting it.
Thanks so much to my workshopping partners, the best and most generous writers I know, for all their incredibly helpful feedback on this story – I wish you could have been there.
What wonderful stories we received in this contest. There were nearly 300 entries. I read every one of them, most of them at least twice – most of the shortlisted stories six or seven times or more. There were stories we had to leave out that I really wanted to include in the longlist, and stories from the longlist I was sad to lose from the shortlist. Narrowing all of these down to just five felt like an amazing achievement, and a painful one. The contest organiser, Rupert, and I spent hours discussing and analysing our top 12, making the case for the merits of stories we each particularly loved. In the end we were united in the choice of the winners, but the standard was so high overall we had some tough decisions to make, and I expect to see many of the stories we deliberated over getting published and taking prizes over the next few months. Thanks so much to everyone who entered for making it so beautifully difficult for us.
The results and judges’ report are here. I hope you’ll go and read the stories as they are published on the site – we’re incredibly proud of them and you are in for a treat.
One of the happiest things that’s happened to me in approximately ever was being asked, this summer, to join the editorial team of the best flash fiction journal in the world, SmokeLong Quarterly. It’s hard work, endlessly fascinating, funny, challenging and a continual masterclass in flash, and there is nothing like it. The standard of submissions is astonishing and the staff team is so talented I reckon if they all stood in a field you’d see their shiny brilliance from space. It’s such a privilege to be part of it.
Go read this issue and find Sky Like Concrete, the story I chose for my guest editing week – the author’s first publication, sparse and utterly beautiful. And then read We All Know About Margo, which Jan Elman Stout pulled out of the slush pile for us all to read and which we were so excited about we just couldn’t accept fast enough. What a buzz to find something like that in the queue. And so many others. This is an experience that will never get old.