I’m so excited to be guest editing at my all-time favourite literary journal this week. SmokeLong has always been my go-to place to find the best flash fiction. I can’t quite believe they’re asking me to pick this week’s story, but I have the Submittable queue now, so I guess it must be true. I LOVE reading and choosing stories so, so much. Getting to pick from the incredible submissions in the SLQ slush pile is not just an honour but also a huge treat. Thanks so much for having me, you guys.
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.
If you love short stories/flash fiction and live near Norwich, UK, we’re holding a book launch for this outstanding collection on Saturday 3rd March, 6.30pm at Nunn’s Yard Gallery. Christopher is the managing editor of the legendary literary journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, and runs a travel writing competition and blog.
This book is so good. I mean so, so good. It will break your heart and make you laugh, and then break your heart all over again. It contains some of the best flash I’ve ever read, and Christopher is a terrific human, kind and generous and extremely funny, and you will love him.
Also, we have Tania Hershman reading as special guest – anyone familiar with the short story and poetry scene in the UK will know her work, but hearing her read live is a real treat, as she does it so beautifully. Her recent story collection is called Some of Us Glow More Than Others, and honestly, she kind of does – I know I’m not the only one who thinks so. She’s amazing. She’s also been mentoring me for free through the Womentoring Project for the last few months, a fact that still occasionally makes me shake my head like a labrador with water in its ears at my good fortune.
I’ll be reading a couple of stories at the beginning as well. And there’s gin. Like, really nice gin. It’s going to be an incredible evening – I’d encourage you to come if you possibly can.
I’m quite new to public readings, so it may be that I’m just not familiar with how things generally go. But I’m willing to bet, nevertheless, that the average prose reading isn’t followed by a demonstration of lightbulb-eating by a trainee sword-swallower in nipple stickers, as mine was at the pretty fabulous Psychedelic Circus in Norwich, where I was invited to read last week. She was an utterly amazing performer and a lovely human, and I’m so glad I went first as I’m pretty sure I would have lost the audience entirely, otherwise.
It was a large, predominantly young and very lively bar-watered crowd who were not really there to see me. My disposition before readings is something like that of a French aristocrat with an appointment with the guillotine, at the best of times. But something seems to kick in once someone shoves a microphone in my hand and blocks all available venue exits. As has happened previously and equally inexplicably, stage confidence arrived from nowhere and I had an absolute blast. I don’t know if it’s because basically, I really, really like people, and getting to connect with loads of them at once overcomes the sweating terror of being in front of an audience. Or if the year and a half of improv shows I did before I lost my nerve has meant that I’ve made an utter idiot of myself in public often enough that my subconscious knows this can’t possibly be worse than the time me and my friend Dan pretended to be politically anarchist seagulls from Hull. And I guess the stories come from the heart, so the feelings that come with reading them definitely override some of the self-consciousness.
And the lovely, lovely, beautiful audience seemed to really, genuinely enjoy it. One of the young people came up and hugged me afterwards and said how much she loved it. Thanks so much for your encouragement, if you ever read this – it meant a lot. And thanks everyone else who was there for being such a wonderfully supportive and enthusiastic audience. I’m going to keep all my clothes on, but I’d love to come back.