The Internship

This year I was an intern for National Flash Fiction Day, which involved receiving, compiling and covertly reading submissions before anyone else saw them. Sure, it was an admin task, the core of which involved building a spreadsheet of all the anthology entries, logging names, email addresses and word counts. But it somehow managed to be super fun. It was great seeing entries arrive in the inbox, some from recognisable names, some from newcomers, and getting to read them first. I didn’t have a say in the judging process, but it was awesome reading the stories before anyone else, trying to guess what might make the cut. The main lesson I took from this was that a story might be great, but that doesn’t mean it’ll fit into any project, necessarily. There was such a volume of entries, it must’ve been tough to choose what made it into the book, and what didn’t. And a part of that has to be which stories create a product, fit together, are cohesive. A story doesn’t always find a home on its first submission. Which is why it’s massively worth re-subbing, over and over again if need be. It was cool to see the breadth of responses too, each about a piece of art, be it book, film, sculpture, each so unique, personal, different, new.

From the spreadsheet I created a mail merge, which built a word document containing all of the submissions, each uniform, all in the same font, anonymous, with title only, so that the judges could read every story without the prejudice of knowing its author. I like that Calum and Holly read all the submissions this way, it makes it so much more fair if the first time they see the work they have no idea who submitted it. Everyone has an equal shot.

Once the selection was made, I compiled a new document with the chosen entries in it, which Calum typeset (and I still can’t believe how quickly he made the book happen, and that we’ll have it in a week).

There are many reasons I love flash. It’s the first form I really enjoyed working in. I just got it and it, me: it’s like the most reliable boyfriend/girlfriend ever. Flash can tell a whole story, a half of it, or a moment only, as it passes. It’s at times impossible to define, maybe called poetry or a prose poem in the mouths of others. It works in sequence or solo, but it’ll never spawn 7 sequels like Die Hard’s going to. It’s so much more efficient than that. Sparse yet filled with possibility which the reader injects like a jam machine in a donut factory. It’s compact, resourceful, won’t waste morsels. It’s the opposite of a Kardashian. And I’m totally, one hundred and ten percent, in love with it.

kk

Flash Kardashian

(Originally published on the National Flash Fiction Day blog, 17th June 2013)

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Guest Post by Calum Kerr: Ekphrasis

Originally referring to written pieces describing works of art (specifically sculptures or paintings), the term ‘ekphrasis’ is now used to describe pieces which are in some way connected – through direct inspiration, tangential ideas, use of the title, whatever – to ‘art’ in its broadest form, including music, TV, film and other writing.

As I work mostly from prompts, a huge amount of my work can be considered as falling under that banner. To take the prompts I used in flash365 as an example, I used lines from a song by They Might Be Giants, entitled ‘Fingertips’ for the first 21 days of month 2, and then titles of other songs by them for the rest of the month. In October, I used the titles of books by Barbara Cartland, and in the February, titles of films selected by my mate, Mike; a major film-nut.

In between, although my prompts weren’t necessarily arty or creative – news stories in August, cities and towns in March – the individual stories often came from both the prompt and the intersection with some inspiration borrowed from somewhere else. One example of this is ‘Shock Corridor’ (published on Susi Holliday’s blog). The title is from a film, but the story came to me  from a song a student played to me during a session which was actually on ekphrasis. I can’t remember the song, but I remember the image of the collapsing space-station and the running man coming to me very strongly.

In many cases I don’t even need to know anything about the film or book, the title can work all by itself – as good titles should – to conjure ideas and expectations. In other cases – such as when I used the titles of books in the Old Testament – the titles were often so obscure that I needed to read a synopsis of the book in order to dig up some idea of what to write.

In the main, though, I find that TV, films, music and other written pieces are probably where most of my stories come from. I never borrow or steal directly, but an evocative line of dialogue, the look of a scene, a plot twist not taken, all of these inspire the stories that I go on to write.

The flash accompanying this post (Two-Lane Blacktop) was rejected by Metazen for being ‘too meta’ and was removed from Lost Property at my editor’s suggestion as ‘nothing really seems to happen’. The title is from a movie, and if you Google it, you’ll see it’s described in reviews as a film in which very little happens. So, in that case, I think I got it exactly right. See what you think.

About Calum:

Calum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife –  the writer, Kath Kerr –  their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is now available from Amazon, or direct from the publisher, Cinder House.

Guest Post by Calum Kerr: Two-Lane Blacktop

It was dark and Billy was walking. He hadn’t been walking long, only about fifteen words so far.

Moonlight flared on the fighter’s smile of the white line: Morse dashes floating in the oily black of the road. Billy expected his boots to make sucking, slurping noises as he walked, but all he heard was the clump-slide, clump-slide, clump-slide of one whole and one broken heel.

He looked back, but all was in darkness. He wondered where he had come from but could remember nothing beyond the last two paragraphs. All he could remember was walking.

There were no lights up ahead, either, and no signs to tell him where he was. He could be anywhere, in any black segment of imagination, he couldn’t tell.

Heat was radiating off the blacktop. He must be somewhere hot.

He carried on walking. He could do nothing else.

He wondered about his destination. Did he even have one? Or would he just keep walking forever.

None of it mattered, all there was lay beneath his feet, metered out in slide-clump, slide-clump, slide-clump.

The word ‘blacktop’ tickled through his brain. Blacktop…

America. He must be in America.

That was something, at least.

And as the thought came to him his vista widened. The scrub of desert appeared on either side, pale grey in the moonlight. The line of the road snaked out into the distance, linking his walking feet to the horizon.

He felt a weight lift inside him. He still didn’t really know where he was, but he now knew that he had a path. That was enough for him.

A faint noise came from behind him and conjured a headlight-cast shadow on the road. The car slowed as it reached him, and the window slid down.

“Going far?” asked a woman’s voice.

“About forty words,” replied Billy. His accent sounded mid-Western in his ears.

“What?”

“I don’t know where I’m going,” he said.

“My kinda guy,” the woman said. “Get in.”

Billy climbed into the car and it set off at speed, driving straight out of the story.

2laneblacktop