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.
I have a new story up at New Flash Fiction Review, here. It comes with a big content warning for eating disorders, although I didn’t set out to write about that. The seed of this story came from a circus performer I’ve seen a couple of times who eats light bulbs and does other painfully astonishing things, but the story is not about her and the character in the story is not her, only that those skills collided with some other things I was thinking about at the time.
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.