Read Anne's story on Fictive Dream to avoid spoilers: 'Baggage.'
Anne’s story is the sixth story in Fictive Dream’s Flash Fiction February 2019: a sequence of twenty eight flash fiction stories released one per day. Fictive Dream, along with the artist, Claudia McGill, have gone to great lengths in helping promote flash fiction and great story-telling. (Make sure you take a look here.)
‘Baggage,’ had an immediate effect on me, and has stayed with me since. A woman takes her bird (possibly a peacock), perched on her shoulder, with her everywhere she goes. When she tries to take ‘Percy’ on board an aeroplane, she is denied entrance and has to take a coach instead.
Anne does an excellent job at making us see Percy in the story’s opening: ‘Such shades of blue and green, shot through with the warmest black. And tipped with what, in certain lights, looks like pure gold.’ From this moment on, the reader has a distinct image of the bird.
The story then moves cleverly, exploring the relationship between not wanting to be seen, at the same time as wanting to be free to choose how to behave. The narrator sees the bird as both ‘an invisibility cloak,’ but at other times is aware of how Percy, ‘draws people to [her].’ This gives the story the extra layer of meaning you find in good flash fiction. I'm sure this is a leap of my own making, but I can't help see this as a comment on the process of writing itself. In the first instance, writers find themselves alone with their writing, only to then send it out into the world to find readers. Here, there is a real tension between introversion and extroversion that I find interesting.
The conversation between the narrator and the ground crew is brilliantly done. When the narrator insists Percy be allowed on board, the response is a simple, but very effective: ‘He’s a bird, Madam.’
Then, the ending of the story is perfect. The simplicity of the final sentence when I first read it made me feel both warm and sad, and continues to do so: ‘Percy watches the landscape flash by and dreams of some day soaring freely above it, without a care in the world.’ Without making it too explicit, Anne draws a thread between Percy and the narrator, alluding to the relationship between introversion and extroversion setup earlier in the story.
'Baggage,' is a clever, warming piece of flash fiction that will stay with me for some time.
Note to self: When done well, a story that appears simple on the surface can allude to complexity beneath.
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Read Mary's story, 'Ladybird,' on 'Spelk,' to avoid spoilers.
Some flash fiction pieces are all about mood. Mary’s story, ‘Ladybird,’ offers up a taste of a dreamy, hazy mood in the very first line: ‘Let’s say it’s one of those rarer than rare days when the sun beams white out of a buttery sky.’ The sun ‘beams,’ and the sky is ‘buttery.’ Wonderful. I’m there.
This warm tone is expanded in the next line with reference to a ‘beach where you sunbathe and burn.’ Not only does the story give us a clear sense of where we are, but the mood is filtered through nostalgia and the clever technique of repeating the phrase: ‘Let’s say.' For me, it’s as though, with each sentence, more of the painting is filled in.
I love that Mary chose the title she did, because this is the image that stays with me: ‘Let’s say you spot a ladybird with two perfectly round dots inching its way slowly up the window and watch as he traces a line down the window onto your toes and up your thighs.’ This is a powerful, delicate, and sensual image. It is one of those moments, in its rarity, that would stay with you for a long time. There is something positive and life affirming about pausing and focussing on this moment.
The scene shifts part way through to ‘the Union Bar.’ And if there is a sensation of light in the first part of the story, now there is a darker tone: ‘dark, beery,’ ‘snakebite and black,’ ‘purple stuff,’ finally culminating in the wonderful simile where both light and dark are brought together: ‘and the white sun streams through and the drinks glow crimson like a beautiful wound.’
So often when writing flash, I look for the big moment, or the pivotal and life changing event. But sometimes, as Mary shows, creating mood can be equally as effective.
'Ladybird,' is a delicate and quiet painting of a flash fiction.
Note to self: Take the time to be deliberate with tone and mood.
Elisabeth's story was placed second in New Flash Fiction Review’s, Anton Chekhov Prize for Very Short Fiction. Have a read to avoid spoilers: 'She Said Her Favourite Colour Was Haddock.'
When I think of Elisabeth’s stories, I think of surprising language. I remember her winning story in TSS Publishing’s Flash Fiction 400 Competition: ‘Space Hopped,’ which uses some wonderfully unexpected combinations of words.
The title of this story: ‘She Said Her Favourite Colour Was Haddock,’ says it all. If you’re looking for a story to read — why wouldn’t you choose this one? Using ‘haddock,’ as a colour is a great example of Elisabeth’s approach to language. Such playful use of language is apparent again in the early part of her story: “I’ll just slit you up in bed she said, and we laughed at the thought of hot blood gushing down my fat belly till I died.” This slip of the tongue, combined with the vivid image to follow, stays with the reader for the rest of the story.
I really like the use of reported speech and the absence of speech marks, that somehow makes the characters' interaction more immediate. Here’s a great example of how, for me, it really works: “We’re not dead yet, she said. We need light.” (Quotation marks are mine.) We see two big ideas coming together, taking their place of opposition in the reader’s mind in a way that is never melodramatic, but very real. Because of the story’s subject matter, it would be easy to fall back on sympathy, but this story never does that. Instead, there is a dark humour and uplifting positivity throughout.
The joy in this story, for me, lies in its surprise. With almost every line, words are juxtaposed in a manner we do not expect. Take a look at this: “She cleaned and bandaged the ghost of it.” Or: “She curled her palm into the concave of my cut out spaces.” These are beautifully poetic images.
This story, like all of Elisabeth’s writing, offers space between ideas, which can be a tricky technique to pull off, always used at the risk of losing the reader. I love stories that test this tension, and this is a great example of it working. Elisabeth's story never loses contact with the reader, and like the relationship between the two characters in the story, the reader and story meet halfway, the sparks of contact firing whenever unusual and surprising language is used.
A beautiful piece of flash fiction.
Note to self: Remember to use unusual and surprising combinations of words.
Read Neil Clark's story on 'Elephants Never' to avoid spoilers: 'Aurora.'
I sometimes wonder whether I’m drawn to a particular piece of flash fiction because I can’t imagine writing it myself, or whether it’s because I can imagine writing it myself. Well, this time, with Neil Clark’s ‘Aurora,’ on Elephants Never, I know it's definitely the former.
The overall tone of this piece is a wonderful combination of wholesome flirtation and colourful metaphysics. The first line, ‘When I cook for you, your face lights up,’ offers the first indication of the characters’ loving relationship and the first reference to ‘light.’ The first person narration, who speaks to ‘you,’ invites the reader into the relationship, making us a part of the narrator's extravagant teasing.
The carelessness of matching the ‘pilot shot-for-shot,’ makes me smile, as does the thought of listening to the pilot's anecdotes before jumping out of the aeroplane as it ‘careers into the side of a cliff.’ It is at this point the romantic metaphysics kick in. There’s the wonderful image of the narrator, ‘parachuting back home through the polar light with the flames from the cliff warming my back.’ And the touch of collecting the aurora in a ‘dusty Glenmorangie bottle,’ is spot on and makes me happy.
The aurora, then, is the secret ingredient that makes the narrator’s cooking so special. And all this time I’ve been using Worcestershire Sauce to woo the ladies.
The more I read and write flash fiction, the more aware I am of last lines. Think of the acrobat who carries out her cartwheels and flips expertly, only to stumble and fall on the dismount. When I read the last line of ‘Aurora,’ I see an acrobat doing that thing with her arms above her head, and saying ‘ta-dah.’ I’m a sucker for vivid colours in description, and this last line is very well done indeed. As our characters pant their, ‘heavy mint greens and hot scarlet,’ I see the aurora streaming above the north pole.
A fantastic piece of flash fiction.
Note to self: Remember to stick the landing. (ta-dah!)