April 3, 2012 — 1,004 words
By Guest Author
by Calum Kerr
I suffer from a problem. I don't know if it's classifiable or treatable, but it certainly affects my life.
I have big ideas.
I didn't used to. I used to think small, but the problem started about a year and a half ago and it seems to be getting worse.
First it was simple: I was going to write more stories and submit them to magazines. In order to do that, I set out to write a flash-fiction every day for a month. January 2011 was that month. The resulting 31 stories then, somehow, transformed themselves into a small book--one which I am still selling and promoting.
That was the start.
Soon after, I decided to set up an online press. Now there are four of us working on a bi-monthly magazine called Word Gumbo, and issue six goes to press as soon as we've sorted the submissions.
Then, in May 2011, I decided that the month of stories had gone so well, I should do a flash-fiction every day for a year. That project, flash365, is now just 29 stories away from completion and has led to at least one collection being published and my own programme on Radio 4.
And then in October, not content with everything else, I hit the big one: the idea which would take over my life. On National Poetry Day, I suddenly wondered if there was a National Flash-Fiction Day. When I found that there wasn't, I decided that I should do something about it. I spread the word and, next thing you know, it was happening!
All of which is just a long way of saying: I had this idea and lots of people seem to like it. I announced the day on Twitter and Facebook, and asked for people to run events to coincide with the day, to be held on May 16th 2012 (chronologically in-between National Days for Short Stories and Poetry, a natural place for Flash-Fiction Day, it seemed to me). And many, many people all over the UK have taken up the baton.
Events are now happening in all parts of the UK, from a flash-slam in Oxford, to an evening of readings in Abergaveney; from workshops in Manchester to a competition in Bristol, and on and on, with reading, slams, workshops, flash-fiction-flash-mobs, book launches, write-ins and more happening all over the UK.
Some of these are being run by people who would have been running these kinds of events anyway, but a number have been set up by people taking part for the first time. It's spreading like crazy, and aims to be amazing.
One area which has had a huge response is competitions/publications. On our website we have been able to list a wide range of places for writers to submit their work and see prizes, publication, or both. But we also have projects which promise to outlast the day and become places of publication for flash-fiction on into the future.
Oh, and it turns out that the UK will be the first country to ever have a National Flash-Fiction Day, so we are getting calls from Ireland, the US, New Zealand and beyond, asking for them to be allowed to join in. With that kind of enthusiasm, can International Flash-Fiction Day be far away?
Flash-fiction, meaning short stories of about 500 words or fewer, has of course existed for as long as there have been short stories. But it was only formally named twenty years ago and has really risen to prominence in the past ten. Its time has come, with the ability to read on smartphones, ebooks and tablet computers. It’s accessible for readers, it’s accessible for writers, it’s fun, it’s moving, it’s complex, entertaining, scary, uplifting and packs one hell of a punch, and it’s definitely time it was celebrated and brought to the attention of the public at large.
The idea behind the day was to celebrate the form, but it seems like it’s doing so much more. It’s spreading the idea of flash-fiction among writers and out into the wider society. And it’s forming a new community of flash-fictioneers who are now finding they have an identity and a community to be part of.
This has certainly been my biggest idea to date, but I never realised that it would be so much bigger than even I could have imagined. It has become a shared idea in the minds of writers and readers, and looks set to become a fixture of the writing calendar for years to come.
The first National Flash-Fiction Day will be held on May 16th. There are many events happening. If you can get to one, why not join in? If you can’t, why not set one up? And if that’s too much to ask, there are many events happening online that you can take part in without leaving your desk.
It promises to be a great day, so why not join in and help us celebrate those tiny stories that can do so much?
Here’s to big ideas!
Calum Kerr lives in Southampton and lectures in Creative Writing at Winchester University. He is also a writer, an editor, and the Director of National Flash-Fiction Day. His stories have been published in many different places, and a collection, 31, is available on Kindle. His pamphlet, Braking Distance, will be published by Salt later in the spring.
April 1, 2012 — 410 words
Christelle couldn’t believe it. Even today that same strange dip and swerve would surge through her gut and stop her in her tracks and her breath would go AWOL.
There she had sat – spilled beans, spilled guts, nowhere near ready to see it as spilled milk – on Julie / Karen’s couch, doubled up like a diver with the bends – come up, come out too soon – and waiting for one of Karen’s combat boots to stomp on her toes.
Talk about the other shoe.
Christelle had been playing sweet Carrie Pipperidge to Karen’s shy Julie Jordan in Carousel and the last thing she wanted to do was blurt out, “I know, I keep messing up in rehearsal, but I’m so deeply in love with you that I can’t even remember who Carrie is.”
At least, it was the last thing she wanted to do while still in rehearsal. It would have been another thing when they had the performances behind them so that, if “Julie” was shocked, she had escape room.
But of course that’s what Christelle did. Blurted. Just like that. And not even at the theater, in rehearsal. At “Julie”’s. Sitting there on Karen’s couch. Working on their dialogue. Not even ready herself. Out it came.
And Christelle knew just as she did it that she could never again sing with any straightness: “You’re a queer one, Julie Jordan . . . ”
She was sure that the show was ruined, and more. She was sure that Karen felt fight-or-flight strung. Christelle just sat, elbows on knees, head in hands, that lurch in her diaphragm, looking for the force to run when Karen shooed her away.
No matter how much of a writer’s cramp she had from scribbling down the long list that she had just finished – all those guests for their tenth anniversary – she still couldn’t believe it.
* * *
Maude Larke has come back to her own writing after working in the American, English and French university systems, analyzing others’ texts and films. She has also returned to the classical music world as an ardent amateur, after fifteen years of piano and voice in her youth. Publications include Naugatuck River Review, Cyclamens and Swords, riverbabble, Doorknobs and BodyPaint, and Short, Fast, and Deadly. "Act I Scene I" was first published on Pure Slush in May 2011: http://pureslush.webs.com/act1scene1.htm
March 31, 2012 — 142 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
I hope you've been enjoying Losing Freight! I've been having a ton of fun writing it and reacting to all of the poll results.
This coming week, April 2 to 6, Losing Freight will be on a short break, because my wife is due to deliver our first child, and I don't want that to disrupt the story in the middle of a week. Assuming that things go relatively smoothly and the baby has arrived by the weekend, we should be able to dive back in on April 9.
If you've gotten behind on the story, this week will be a great chance to catch up so you can vote along with everyone else in the daily polls!
Photo by Anne Davis.
March 31, 2012 — 343 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Tic, Milly, and Overard were tied up in the hold, flanked by Liberati. Haglyn laid nearby, legs sprawled uselessly beneath her. There had been no point fighting; the Liberati were too well armed.
Pelly's side hatch whooshed open, and Lady Libden stepped into the hold. "YOU'VE LOST, BOLTER!" she crowed. "YOU NEVER SHOULD HAVE INVOLVED YOURSELF IN THIS... LIBERATI: FIND MY ADAM ASTROBOT! SEARCH THE CABINS FIRST."
The Liberati hunted the cabins. "It isn't there," they said.
"BREAK HIS FINGER," said Libden.
A Liberati grabbed Tic's left index finger and wrenched it backwards. It cracked. Tic screamed.
"THE LONGER THIS TAKES, THE MORE FINGERS WE BREAK," said Libden. "CHECK THE COCKPIT NEXT."
The Liberati swarmed the cockpit and discovered the Adam Astrobot hidden behind the controls.
"YOU'RE LUCKY WE FOUND IT SO QUICKLY," said Libden. "YOUR OTHER FINGERS ARE SAFE, BOLTER. COME, MY LIBERATI." She and her minions stormed out through the hatch.
"They're letting us go?" said Overard. "Thank goodness!"
"Get us a view, Pelly," groaned Tic, holding his broken finger.
An image of Libden's ship projected onto the wall. The tractor beam had reversed and was pushing the Galactic Pelican back out into open space, while dozens of laser turrets followed their progress.
"Oh no... They're maneuvering us into safe firing distance!" said Milly.
Dr. Fester hobbled into the hold.
"Where were you?" asked Milly.
"Hid where I predicted they wouldn't look!" said Dr. Fester, winking. He bustled over to the Origami Engine and started tinkering.
The tractor beams disengaged. The laser turrets started to glow.
"Ah ha!" said Dr. Fester. "Thought so! Predicted it!"
"What!?" said Tic. "Did you fix it? Pelly, can you jump?"
"I believe so," said Pelly. "Would you like me to?"
"What do you think!?" yelled Tic.
The lasers fired.
Author's Note: Losing Freight will be on a break next week, as my wife is due to give birth to our first child. The story will resume on April 9. Thanks for reading and voting!
March 30, 2012 — 277 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Milly jabbed a button to release the docking connection between Pelly and Mak Overard's ship.
"Hold on a minute!" protested Overard. He moved to stop Milly, but Tic tackled him.
Milly grabbed the box containing the Adam Astrobot. "Pelly, get us out of here!" She tore the box open and pulled out the action figure. It was about ten inches tall, sealed inside a clear plastic cube.
"What are you doing?" yelled Overard. "Thieves! Kidnappers!"
"Shut up," said Tic. "Pelly, project a viewscreen on the rear hatch." An image of Overard's ship flickered onto the flat surface. Beyond it was an enormous red-and-silver cruiser.
"Is that Libden?" said Milly.
Tic nodded. "Pelly, if she hails us, don't respond!" His PAI buzzed. As he pulled it out of his pocket, he accidentally thumbed the Answer button. Libden's face appeared on the screen.
"WHERE'S MY ADAM ASTROBOT, BOLTER!?"
"On the other ship," said Tic.
"Hang up!" hissed Milly.
"I CAN TELL YOU'RE LYING," shouted Libden. "I CAN SEE IT IN YOUR EYES!"
"How do I turn off the video on this thing?" muttered Tic. He twisted the PAI around, looking for the right button.
"AH HA!!" crowed Libden, as the camera panned across Milly holding the action figure. A bevy of bright-coloured lasers lanced out from Libden's ship and raked across Overard's abandoned vessel. It disintegrated.
"Did she just...?!" said Overard.
"Yep," said Tic, hanging up his PAI.
"Is she going to...?"
"Shoot at her! Jump away!"
"Our Origami Engine is dead, and those shields are way too strong..." said Tic.
The Galactic Pelican shuddered as it was gripped by a powerful tractor beam.
March 29, 2012 — 1,102 words
By Letitia Coyne
Ever notice that when individuals have a problem to resolve, they tend to tell the same story over and over? It might be about their health or their heartbreak, it might be about their job and career choice, or it might be about their childhood or their latest love. Whatever it is, chances are you can say the words with them after a while because if they aren’t telling you again, they are telling your friends when you sit down to a meal together.
You might even recognize yourself, here. Ever get hung up in a loop, going over the same thing endlessly? One of the reasons, a primary reason, I believe, that we go through this rehashing, is in an attempt to make sense of things that we cannot get our head around. Mentally, we retrace our steps again and again, searching for the divine light or a universal insight: a reason for what has happened in our lives. We like to feel we have some control, and we will look for parallels in the experiences of friends, and ask for advice even if we intend to ignore it.
And this process of rehashing is by no means new.
This desire to keep studying cause and effect in the world around us powers the driving need we feel to share stories and the experiences of others. Of course, our personal dramas are a great deal more consuming than fiction, after all, we need to fine tune our standing within relationships, groups, companies, cities, societies etc. We need to make decisions and take actions. But a substantial source of understanding of these groups and societies is found in fiction.
Individuals have dealt with the same issues, in this same way, in every culture since we first built a fire to sit around at night. And every society, no matter the separation of time or distance, peopled their stories with the same characters. When he developed his theory of collective consciousness, KG Jung decided there were shared concepts, archetypes, from which archetypal figures were drawn to represent humanity in every situation. Archetypes themselves are not characters. They are elementals, parts of the personality which are universal.
Very briefly they are:
The self -- that is, the identity itself, you as you really are.
The shadow – your deeper side, the parts of your mind which you do not always recognize, but which affect and direct thought and action.
The persona – the mask we wear – the face we put forward as acceptable in public.
The anima – femininity including female in the male personality.
The animus – masculinity including male in the female personality.
These universal concepts are illustrated by groups of archetypal figures, again theoretically recognizable to all societies. They number into their thousands as they appear in response to problems or events, but again, there are some basics:
The father: Authority figure, stern, powerful, the king.
The hero: Champion, defender, rescuer.
The youth: The arrogant, the beautiful, the angsty and overconfident.
The child: Longing for innocence, rebirth, salvation.
The mother: Nurturing, comforting, queen.
The maiden: Innocence, desire, purity.
The helper [sage/hag]: Guidance, knowledge, wisdom.
The whore: Manipulator of weakness in strong men.
The trickster: Deceiver, liar, trouble-maker.
The twin: Duality, the double, the paradox of good and evil in one.
The underdog: Beset by tribulations, succeeds to learn life lessons.
The poet: Artistic expression, creativity.
When these archetypal figures are placed into a story world of archetypal themes and events – birth, death, marriage, conflict, creation, destruction, separation, initiation, etc, experiences recognized by all people - their potential to express and explain the human experience becomes limitless.
Before the advent of novels, mythology and folklore were our source of entertainment and education. The ancient pantheons are excellent illustrators of the principles of universal archetypes. All over the world people told and retold stories about the exploits of their gods, each god a complex mixture of archetypal figures moving through epic adventures and magical landscapes. In very different cultures the same gods with different names were having the same adventures and learning the same lessons. When morals were introduced, stories became fables and parables to guide and correct the masses. These ‘fictions’ helped make sense of the world.
Long after their respective twilights, these old gods delivered their burden of human experience to new audiences as they were Christianized, and on into schools and universities where the classics were studied and their life lessons examined. Their tales were drawn upon and modified by Shakespeare and Chaucer and alike, their character traits and their exploits retold in play and poem, with new names and updated circumstances.
They remain popular today.
Their stories describe fundamental truths that are not eroded by time or scientific advancement. For all we have learned, deep in our hearts and minds we are not so far from the cave’s fire pit; we remember the village hearth; we still carry the mythology and superstitious awe of what lies over the horizon.
With the advent of the novel, a change did take place in the telling of stories. Those archetypal characters still moved through landscapes, but their primary function was no longer to educate. All that was necessary from a novel, right from their earliest days, was to entertain.
Heroes and villains in novels moved steadily closer to normality. Everyday people took lead roles away from gods and kings; the adventures they shared became far more mundane. Supernatural abilities became less likely to be the solution to the ills of society. They still carried those archetypal characteristics which are and were recognized universally, but they demonstrated a more natural blend of traits and their actions began to more closely resemble the everyday.
That is when, I think, stories moved from the examination of archetypes, in all their godly full expression, toward ectypes or stereotypes. Stereotypes fulfill the same role, providing instant recognition of a host of unstated characteristics, but they are toned down. They can be just as difficult to believe, but we know them, and accept them, and will often allow them to fill our pages because we are so familiar with them.
So next week, I will have a chat about stereotypes. Whenever we have a favorite genre, you can rest assured there is a set of stereotypes we enjoy following. I wonder; if they are so frowned upon in literature, why do they remain so popular?
March 29, 2012 — 284 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
"I'm glad the seller was so accommodating about meeting us in orbit," said Milly.
"Maybe he's worried its real owner will show up to reclaim it," said Tic, elbow deep in the Origami Engine. "And considering who its real owner is, he should be worried."
"I'm receiving a docking request," said Pelly.
"That'll be Overard," said Milly. "Make the connection please, Pelly."
"Hold on," said Tic, as the docking tube extended from the side hatch. "Overard?"
"Yeah, Mak Overard. He's the seller."
"He's the guy whose cargo I dumped. He probably found the Adam Astrobot while regathering their equipment."
"Hmm," said Milly. "Well, maybe he won't recognize the ship..."
The side hatch hissed open, and Tic ducked down out of sight. Overard stepped through, carrying a box.
"The Galactic Pelican. What an interesting coincidence!" said Overard. "You must be Ms. Leon. I don't suppose Mr. Bolter is around, is he?"
"He doesn't own this ship anymore," said Milly. "I, uh, bought it from him."
"Sure you did... He owes my company 15,000 litres in equipment damage, so here's the new plan: you're going to pay for this Adam Astrobot and settle Mr. Bolter's bill. Collect it from him yourself."
"No way!" said Milly.
"Then I'll find another buyer." Overard's PAI chimed. "Speak of the devil: a certain Lady Libden also appears to be interested. I'll just send her our coordinates..."
Tic popped up. "No, don't!"
"Too late, I'm afraid," grinned Overard. "But for, say, 20,000 litres, I'll inform her the action figure's no longer available."
"That won't stop her," said Tic. "She'll gladly kill us all... We have to get out of here!"
March 28, 2012 — 288 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Tic pried up a floor panel in the hold and stared down into the chamber where the Origami Engine sat. The brackets holding it were blackened and twisted, and a string of red lights around its perimeter was pulsing an obscure error code. Tic sighed, rolled up his shirtsleeves, and called up the manual on his PAI.
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" said Milly.
"I'm smarter than you thought I was, remember?" said Tic.
"If you say so," said Milly. "I still think it would be better to head down to the surface and find a real mechanic."
"I'd give us maybe an hour down there before Lady Libden found out and sent the Liberati after us. Stupid to risk it."
"Orbit Patrol might come across us up here, too, though."
"I know. That's why I'm trying to work."
"Fine!" said Milly. "I can take a hint. I have more important things to do, anyways. Pelly said that special Adam Astrobot action figure got jettisoned into space when we were here before, right? I'm going to try to find it."
"Don't bother," said Tic. "You're looking for a needle in about ten trillion cubic kilometres' worth of haystacks."
"You're such a pessimist," said Milly, already fiddling with her PAI.
Tic rolled his eyes and scrolled through a few more screens of the Origami Engine's manual.
"Ha!" cried Milly.
"You won't believe this." Milly held her PAI out in front of Tic's face. It showed an ad on the Crux Stuff Market website which read:
For Sale: rare Adam Astrobot action figure. Found floating derelict in orbit, just like on TV! Asking 2,000L or best offer.
Tic's jaw dropped.
March 27, 2012 — 1,205 words
By Guest Author
I was asked to speak last Tuesday to the Society of Young Publishers in Oxford. As an evangelical self-publisher that was irresistible to start with, but the subject was one so important I couldn’t do anything but pounce on the opportunity – how do ebooks impact on independent bookstores? It’s a microcosm of a massive topic, but one that’s rarely addressed – the way digital fiction, far from distancing us from “reality”, is bringing readers and writers in the physical world closer than ever before in a way that print was never able to do.
I know my stance is coloured by my experience, but it strikes me that maybe that experience is illustrative of something important that we are discovering through the rise of webfiction and self epublishing. Something about the relation between art and community.
OK, rewind to the start of 2009 when I did two things, having made the decision that I wrote the kind of fiction that would make it nuts for me to do anything but self-publish. First, I started a collective of writers who did the same thing, Year Zero Writers. And second, I wrote my next novel, The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes, as an interactive serial webfiction on Facebook. What surprised me most about both was the way they became hubs for communities of like-minded writers. The Year Zero website went strong from mid 2009 to mid 2011 with its mix of original daily prose, poetry, and thought-provoking articles, attracting hundreds of active online participants to its various events and acting as the breeding grounds for discussions and relationships that have flourished and continue to produce not just great literature but great ideas and collaborations. And The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes got noticed by mashable and various other websites and introduced me to a whole new group of people doing exciting things with digital literary fiction.
In other words, I learned that the most exciting, and valuable – and very easily possible – thing about writing online is the way communities form.
To go off at a tangent and set myself down in late 2009, I had self-published the book Songs from the Other Side of the Wall and thought I should have a launch for it. I was also spending a lot of time reading discussions about how literature wasn’t like music because authors couldn’t do gigs, and that struck me as inherently absurd, so having arranged a launch for the novel through my amazing local store, The Albion Beatnik in Oxford, I decided Year Zero should have a tour. Our first show was at the legendary music venue Rough Trade, in London’s Brick Lane. Two years later, and 18 months after I set up eight cuts gallery, the tour is still going. Our show, The New Libertines, has played to full houses in Manchester, Oxford, Birmingham, and London, and our format of 10-20 fabulous writers performing poetry, prose, and everything in between, goes down fabulously with writers and public alike. But more than that, venues love it. We get involved with local writing groups, local arts groups and projects – yes, to come back to the refrain – live performance thrives because at its heart is an ever-expanding community.
And as both communities grow, they start to intersect. I’m working with more and more people doing amazing things that I first met online – Claire Trévien and James Purcell Webster from the review site Sabotage have become invaluable parts of our performance troupe; for the event Lilith Burning I got to make art and words in Oxford with the amazing New York based writer, photographer, artists and model Katelan Foisy. And I’m sharing online the work of people I meet at gigs. Like Sian Rathore and Paul Askew. And the more I do separately with both communities, the more they both grow and merge and the creative tentacles feed each other.
All of which should be enough of an injunction to get out and *do*. But if it isn’t, here’s a brief reflection on why live performing and self-published webfiction go together so well. Both are intrinsically active. They are creative outpourings of the imaginative will. At no stage in either process do you do what you are told or have to fit a pre-ordained format. There is no house style, there are no bookshelves your product must physically fit on.
But most of all, both are fundamentally about communication. And that is the alpha and omega of what storytelling is. Print publishing has allowed that to become obscured in writers’ minds. People think they can sit in a cold attic and type into the void and that is “being a writer”. Well, being a writer it is maybe, but being a storyteller it is not. The internet and 100 people with their eyes and ears fixed on you in a room serve the single same function – they bring everything you do right back to the purest essence of what it is – communicating stories to other human beings. Taking them somewhere with you and making them want to come back and go on more journeys in your company. It’s no wonder both digital fiction and the spoken word are thriving, and it is no surprise that they are growing at the same time – however universal one seems and however local the other seems, they are doing precisely the same thing.
You can get involved with what we do either online or in person at Not the Oxford Literary Festival, and particularly with Paint Oxford With Poetry on March 30th, in which people from all over the world can send poems that will be left in Oxford’s public space overnight.
Dan Holloway writes poetry and prose but is happiest behind a microphone, winning Literary Death Match in 2010 and the March 2012 Oxford Hammer and Tongue Poetry Slam. He runs the online and real life literary project eight cuts gallery, which stages live shows and online exhibitions as well as publishing unusual fiction. He is the author of the novels Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes, and The Company of Fellows, which was voted "favourite Oxford novel" by readers at Blackwell's in 2011. This week he is hosting Not the Oxford Literary Festival.
March 27, 2012 — 294 words
By Tim Sevenhuysen
Milly emerged from the passenger cabin and saw Tic stumping into the Galactic Pelican's hold, carrying a toolkit. "Have you figured out where we are yet?" she called after him. "All the viewscreens are dead, and Pelly isn't responding. That jump didn't go very smoothly, did it?"
Tic ignored her, approached a panel on the wall of the hold, and started sifting through his tools. He grabbed a wrench and tried it on one of the panel's screws. It didn't quite fit. He grunted his annoyance and kept searching.
"Well, it was unconventional, but at least we're all alive, right?" said Milly. "That was quick thinking back there. Using the vacuum generators like that... You're smarter than I thought you were."
Tic glared at her.
"Er, I mean that in the best way possible," said Milly.
"Hmmph," said Tic, and tried another wrench. This one worked. He got the panel open and a shower of sparks burst out. "Urgh," said Tic.
"Can you fix it?" asked Milly.
"Maybe," grunted Tic, "if you'll shut up and let me think." He flipped a switch down, disconnected some wires, yanked out a complicated fuse, and replaced it from his toolkit. He flipped the switch back up.
There was a hum and a buzz in the walls. The lights flickered. A warbling voice moaned, "Uuuuuurghh..."
"Couldn't have said it better myself," said Tic.
"Suumthuung uusn't quut ruught..." warbled Pelly. She sounded like a dying frog.
"Whoops," said Tic. He reconnected the wires.
"Ah, thank you, dear," said Pelly.
"Don't mention it. Now, where are we? Please say anywhere but Cr—"
"We're at Crux, of course!" said Pelly. "Oh, and when you have a minute, I think my Origami Engine died."