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When I was in  university, I travelled by train a lot. Mostly this was due to having a long-distance relationship for two and a half of the three years (we’re now living together, and will be soon celebrating five years of our relationship, for anyone who cares) and travelling two to three hours across the country most weekends. And to fill that time, I read.

To start with, I read novels and magazines. The likes of Black Static and Interzone and the now sadly defunct Murky Depths. I devoured fiction, and even sometimes my textbooks. It was in this mad hunger for the storytelling — and a desire to escape the interminable boredom of public transport — that I discovered the Escape Artist podcasts.

It was actually through TTA Press’ own (apparently also now-defunct) podcast Transmissions from Beyond that I came to encounter first Escape Pod, then Pseudopod. And I was hooked throughout and beyond my university years. More lately I’ve even started listening to the third sibling, PodCastle.

But now these titans of (free) genre fiction are under threat, and they need your help.

Read on…

Blowing off the Cobwebs

It’s been a strange week-and-a-bit, since graduation and election day brought my the two most time consuming projects to a (temporary) end. I’ve suddenly found myself with a whole lot more free time to fill, which has been a bit startling.

There is, of course, the endless parade of job applications to fill out and send off, but the job hunt is rather depressing at the moment, so I’m not going to dignify it by dwelling on it.

Instead, it’s been a time to return to writing. I made something of an effort to resume scribbling after the conclusion of my exams, but the sudden appearance of the by-election on the horizon demanded much of my attention. Now I try to sink back into the routine of knocking out a story or two every few weeks, I’m finding I’m a little rusty.

It’s not so much a lack of ideas, which seem to come to me in deluges whenever I sit down, but rather a lack of confidence. I get a few hundred words into a story and start doubting it. The writing isn’t up to scratch, the characters are flat, the plot is uninteresting. Self-consciousness takes hold of me like a teenage girl looking in the mirror, and the story ends up abandoned before it’s gotten going.

And I’m sick of it.

So this weekend, and the next couple of days, are about breaking that cycle. Thusfar I’ve edited my way through two stories, submitted one of them (the other is waiting for the verdict of my ever-dependable beta reader), and am pushing my way through another- involving a ball, an assassin, and an interplanetary socialist civilisation. I’ve also been reading a lot; continuing with Lavie Tidhar’s excellent Osama (review to follow), supplemented with dips into China Mieville’s brilliantly weird  Kraken, as well as episodes of Escape Pod and PseudoPod.

The combination seems to be working. Aside from a minor distraction yesterday involving capital punishment, and a little break this morning to poke a stick into the vipers’ nest that is John Redwood’s blog, I’ve been almost entirely focused on writing. And I’m remembering why I love it.

All these ideas which have been floating around my head, finally being given an outlet. Watching them take shape- admittedly, a shape which will need various dings hammered out of them- is something beautiful. It’s what got me interested in creative writing in Year 2 (aged 6), and it hasn’t changed.

So hopefully, in a matter of days I’ll be back to pumping out stories at my former pace. I might even knock out a piece of flash to post on here.

Flash! AAH-ahh!

Flash Gordon actually has nothing whatsoever to do with this entry.

This is a follow-up to my previous post on the subject, “The Art of Flashing“. It’s not going to be a long piece, but I wanted to write it for several reasons.

1) The awesome title occurred to me only several days after the original flash fiction entry.
2) I do really like flash fiction.
3) I was contacted by Alan Presley, who asked me to pimp the Micro Award. Which I’m more than happy to do

The Micro Award is for outstanding flash fiction, published in the previous year. It probably doesn’t sound frightfully interesting, but really literary awards are important for recognition of outstanding fiction, and are a massive deal in the industry. They showcase the very best of what’s going on, a snapshot of the top. And they often cause controversy and debate (for example, the Booker prize recently ignored genre fiction again, and rolled out the same bollocks in explanation of that. But that’s a different debate).

But more than that, this award is an essential ingredient if flash is to be considered a genuine mode of literary art. I already made my feelings on flash fiction clear in my previous entry, and I have a lot of respect and admiration for the authors who can form a complete, engaging and satisfying story in only 500 words.

The award has just been taken over by Alan Presley (previously having been run by Robert Laughlin), and is gathering momentum. And best of all, it’s open to all genres, recognising all equally. Which, if you’ve read my previous posts, you know is something I’m more than a little passionate about. If you’re interested in flash fiction, or in the award, you should definitely take a look at the Micro Award website.

Also, while I’m plugging away, I’ll give the Escape Pod flash contest (yes, you have to register on their forum to see and vote on the stories, but at least it’s free) another nod. There are a lot of entries, so it’s gonna be going on for a while (and I’ll be flogging it on here until it’s a bloody mess of twitching organs). I have two stories in it, one of which is through to the quarter finals, and one of which is still in the first round. It’s still blind, and I’m still not going to say which are mine, but you should really read through all of them. There are brilliant examples of both flash fiction, and sci-fi in general, on there.

The Art of Flashing

Flash fiction, that is. Get your mind out of the gutter.

I’ve been writing a lot of flash fiction lately, for some reason. I’ve written three stories, in the last few days. I think it all started with the Campaign for Real Fear, for which my entry (Extra-Curricular) was regrettably not selected. But there was something fun about it. Trying to get a complete story in 500 words is a fun challenge.

See, my writing evolution has gone a little in reverse. Instead of starting out small, and getting bigger, I began trying to write novels. Trying being the operative word. Until almost two years ago (Christ, it’s gone too quickly), I had never really been able to write short stories. There’s something difficult and challenging in staying inside a tighter word limitation, where you need to be free of the extraneous bumf that would be more permissable in a novel-length work.

The thing about flash fiction rather than a short story, however, is that it’s much harder to get a complete story within 500 words. With a short story, I can quite happily fit a three- or even five-act story. But a piece of flash is more like a glimpse into the fictional world of the setting and characters; a peak through a window. You have to get the atmosphere right, with minimal description. You have to make your characters full and likeable (if that’s the intention) through only a few pieces of dialogue and action. You can’t waste words on chunks of exposition.

Since becoming more “serious” about my writing two years ago, my writing style has changed drastically. I used to be cloyingly verbose, and after some loving criticism and advice from my beautiful Ashleigh, I ended up with a much more stripped down way of writing. I’m not sure it’s all a good thing, but I’m still learning and evolving, so I guess it doesn’t matter. But I do believe that you should only use as many words as absolutely necessary to get across what you’re trying to, so from that standpoint, really a good piece of flash fiction should be the pinnacle of good writing.

That’s not to knock short stories and novels. I love writing short stories, and one day I am going to both edit my Spanish Civil War vampire novel (No, they don’t sparkle), and write more novels. But there’s something about a well crafted piece of flash that makes me feel warm and happy. I guess it’s the whole short and elegant aspect. To the point. No prevarication.

And if you want to see examples of some of the finest flash fiction, then I’d recommend taking a look at the Escape Pod flash fiction contest. Aside from being a fantastic (free) weekly podcast of sci-fi stories, the lovely people at Escape Pod are currently in the voting stage of a flash fiction contest. You can find (and vote on) the entries at the Escape Artists Forums, but you have to register on the site (again, for free) to see the stories. They aren’t all fantastic, but there are some real gems in there. Yes, I have a couple of pieces in there. No, I won’t tell you which. See if you can figure it out.

As for my recent produce? Well, if anyone wants to suggest any markets that publish flash (sci-fi and horror, specifically), I’d be very grateful. If I can’t find anywhere to sell them to, I may simply post them up here, for you lovely people to read.