I’m really, really happy to be on this list. This story is close to my heart – the characters live for me and, ridiculously, even though they are entirely fictional, make me cry every time I read it. Writers are strange people. I’m so glad some other people liked it too.
This project is celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights in the UK, sharing audio recordings of 100 female-identifying writers telling the story of an achievement in their lives and reading a piece of their work relating to it. Jude Higgins, possessor of more energy and inspiration than ten of most of us, who spends just some of her time running the Bath Flash Fiction Award, Bath Short Story Award and UK Flash Fiction Festival, suggested I write about winning the Bath Flash Award, back in October 2016.
That story, One In Twenty-three, was one of the first subs I ever sent anywhere, one of the first pieces of flash I wrote, my first ever publication. What an experience. It became my way into the literary world, and it brought people into my life who I can’t imagine being without, now.
But I couldn’t see how I could write and record for a project asking women for their personal stories, using a piece that is so very much not my story. I’ve doubted whether I should have sent it out in the first place. Often I don’t know how to respond to the kind things people say about it, when I was writing from a position of privilege about the loss of human life on such a scale – when those are the people that story belongs to. I wrote it because I felt compelled to, from the grief of it all, and also because we were experiencing an obscene groundswell of nationalism and anti-refugee sentiment in our country at that time and I was so angry. But it’s such a painful subject, and these questions are difficult.
I spoke to one or two writer friends who love me and know how I get messed up about this stuff and the patient response was that I should do it, and that yes, 30 seconds of wordless sobbing on audio would probably be FINE. So I emailed the organisers and told them all my misgivings about doing the piece. They messaged back to say: That. Write about that. So I did.
You can hear me talking about all of this and reading the story aloud in this audio broadcast here, which I promise does not contain wordless sobbing: http://www.100voicesfor100years.com/voice-of-the-day/2018/4/25/one-in-twenty-three Do go and listen to the others, too. There are some astonishing pieces from some astonishing women.
Gatehouse Press publish the beautiful quarterly print journal, Lighthouse (check out their font, a digitisation of a vintage typeface – blooming gorgeous), as well as poetry and short fiction chapbooks. They’re based in Norwich UK, where the launch of Chris’s outstanding flash fiction collection, Other Household Toxins, took place last month. If you’re on Facebook, you can still view the video stream of that on the I Must Be Off blog page – you’ll need to scroll forward to the 40 mins mark to get to the start.
Gatehouse kindly offered to publish an interview on their blog in the run-up to the launch. We worked on it and I sent the text to the editors – yay! Only, it was the wrong file (because I am a writer and those genes have clearly nuked the smart, organisational ones I’m sure I would otherwise have expressed with great efficiency). However, the brilliant and long-suffering Andy from Gatehouse has put that right, and the actual proper version of that interview is now up on their site, here: http://www.gatehousepress.com/2018/01/interview-christopher-allen-flash-fiction/
It contains some invaluable flash writing advice from someone Kathy Fish describes as ‘a writer of uncommon skill and grace’, and Sara Lipmann calls ‘a master of flash fiction’. Christopher Allen is the managing editor of the legendary flash journal SmokeLong Quarterly, whose 15th anniversary flash contest is currently running, so this might be of interest to anyone who’s considering entering that (which you can do here: http://www.smokelong.com/the-smokelong-quarterly-award-for-flash-fiction/)
And if you haven’t bought the collection yet, you really should. It really is all kinds of awesome.
The lovely humans and other exotic creature creatives at Nothing In The Rule Book asked me for an interview. Here it is: https://nothingintherulebook.com/2018/03/26/creatives-in-profile-interview-with-helen-rye/
A few months ago I got an email that made me cry (in a good way). It was from the award-winning Vietnamese poet, translator and author Nguyen Phan Que Mai. She’d seen the story One In Twenty-Three, written out of grief at the mass deaths at sea of the ongoing refugee crisis, and said she’d felt an echo of the story of the people who fled war in Vietnam that had touched her deeply.
We exchanged some emotional emails, and Que Mai asked permission to translate the story for publication in Vietnam’s national newspaper, Hanoi Moi, and as part of an anthology she was working on. Ad-Hoc Fiction, the Bath Flash Award publishers, and Jude Higgins very kindly agreed to give permission.
The story was immediately accepted by Hanoi Moi last year, which was very exciting and a great honour. You can read about that, and some of what Que Mai had to say, here https://bathflashfictionaward.com/2017/07/one-in-twenty-three-by-hele-rye-nationally-published-in-vietnamese/
This week Que Mai sent me the cover image from the anthology – it’s a thing of such beauty, as you can see. Being on that astonishing list of names has completely made my year, however much of a fluke it is. I also learned that people have been using the story when teaching creative writing courses, which is just – well. Mind-blowing, really.
All royalties from the newspaper and anthology publications are being donated to the Ban Mai scholarship programme, a project that supports children in Vietnam from very poor backgrounds, many of whom have lost a parent, to continue in education.
I was off social media for most of Monday (a situation that usually makes friends panic that I might have died) and so it wasn’t until late in the day that I saw the incredibly exciting news that Sleep Is A Beautiful Colour, the story I wrote about my then- five-year-old, has been nominated by the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology for Best Small Fictions 2018. Yay! Getting the email from Tino Prinzi last summer to ask if I’d let them use it as the title story for the 2017 NFFD anthology was one of my most exciting moments in writing to date. This is the strawberry butter-icing on that cake.
About Best Small Fictions: https://www.facebook.com/TheBestSmallFictions/
Lovely news this week that my story, Reunion – inspired by a reunion with my best friend from school a few months back in which we partied like it was 1999, dancing to terrible music out of hours at a softplay centre – has been picked for the Ellipsis Zine Two anthology. The sheer joy of meeting up with someone you adored for years, and finding you still adore each other, found its way into words that reflect the spirit of rather than reality of our friendship, in this story. We were (and are) WAY less cool in real life, but we had so much fun, always.
Thrilled to have my downbeat micro flash, Holy Night, chosen by Open Pen London litmag to be the Christmas Eve story in their Twelve Days of Christmas series: http://www.openpen.co.uk/holy-night/ Pretty happy too that they let me have The Smiths’ Please Please Please as my contribution to their accompanying Christmas playlist, on the wafer-thin ground that it was ‘once used in a John Lewis Christmas advert’. It’s one of my favourite songs, especially at the moment.
This flash was originally a free-write in response to a challenge last year to write a Christmas-themed story for our writing group. I remembered it this year and searched in the dozen or so scraggy notebooks I have stuff scribbled all over. Remarkably, I found it in the first one I tried. Even more remarkably, given my ‘disturbed spider fell in some ink’ style of handwriting, I could read all but one word of it, and rewrote it for this year.
Thanks, Open Pen, for letting me be part of your brilliantly warped and slightly disturbing Christmas stocking, this year – it was an honour.
A few months ago I was approached by Canada-based writer Jason Lee Norman about an exciting secret project he’d been working on for some time, bringing Canada’s first ever short story dispenser machine to Edmonton International Airport. The airport was keen to invest in something so creative and innovative and the project had reached the stage where they were looking for flash fiction writers from the local area and from destination countries, including the UK, to submit the stories that would fill the machine.
Was I interested? Er, YES PLEASE. Did I know any other UK flash writers who might also want to submit stories for consideration…? Yes – yes, I kinda thought I might :).
I wasn’t wrong – there was LOT of enthusiasm and excitement among UK flash writers about this project. The short story dispenser launched successfully early in December – I have two stories in the machine, and about a dozen UK-based writer friends have work in there too. We’ve been playing spot-the-story as passengers have shared pictures on the internet of the stories the machine has dispensed to them. We hope they have taken some of them home to keep and to love.
More dispenser machines are planned soon, with the potential for our stories to end up all over the world. The stories are free to the readers, with royalties being paid to authors each time their work is dispensed. Many thanks to Jason for such an unusual and brilliant opportunity.
Very happy to have two stories up in this month’s Connotation Press, one started in a Kathy Fish Fast Flash class, the other from a prompt from my mentor, the utterly wonderful Tania Hershman. And as write-ups go, this is kinda nice. Thanks, Jonathan Cardew.