Flash Fiction Festival Bristol 2018

In sharp contrast to the previous weekend, which was dedicated to plumbing, mopping, fridge replacement and the like, this weekend was spent in the luscious surroundings of Trinity College Bristol at the second annual Flash Fiction Festival in the UK. This is an event created by the energetic and benevolent Jude Higgins, who is a writing tutor for flash fiction at Bath Spa University and co-runs the Bath Short Story and Flash Fiction Awards.

I took lots of pictures, but they seem to have disappeared on the way from my mobile phone to my One Drive, so you will have to make do with the small amount below and believe me when I say it was the most peaceful environment high on Stoke Hill in an old manor house (now a training seminary for the Church of England) which appeared in a Turner watercolour at some point.

The Flash Fiction community is a tight-knit one, and everyone seemed to know each other, but were also very welcoming to newbies like myself. I volunteered to help out during the festival, so had the privilege of setting out sumptuous lunches such as these.

The workshops were on a variety of topics, reflecting the rich diversity of the form itself. Almost anything goes with flash fiction: from novella-in-flash, to historical flash, to science-fiction and humorous. In contrast to other literary events I’ve attended, I noticed that flash fictioneers always have a very quick comeback, a witty turn of phrase. I struggled to keep up: I was barely warming up in the writing exercises and they would come up with a piece that sounded very polished. Perhaps it’s like sprinting vs. long distance running. Here, it was all about the twist and the word play – perhaps because they have to condense such a lot, that every word counts. It’s also a way of observing the world: minute details yet very elliptical, leaving a lot out. I also noticed a lot of second person being used in the flashes, which probably would have become wearisome in a longer piece.

Peaceful morning hours before the onslaught of flash fictioneers.

Although I found it difficult to produce something immediately based on workshop prompts, they did plant some seeds which I am going to grow and experiment with. The satisfying thing with flash fiction is that it doesn’t take up too much of your time, so you feel free to experiment more than you might with a novel. The workshops I attended were Dreams into Fiction with Jude Higgins (which led to a triptych of flashes about the Ice Queen going to the basement), a comparison between prose poetry and flash fiction with the enthusiastic and funny Carrie Etter and Michael Loveday (which felt a lot more comfortable and familiar to me as a poet), Vanessa Gebbie on the Weird and Wonderful, Writing Funny Fiction with Meg Pokrass and Jude Higgins was hilarious (although it did make me feel slightly inadequate), a visualisation workshop with Karen Jones (which opened me up to some very unexpected ideas and feelings, but also might lead to 1-2 pieces of flash fiction, Extraordinary Points of View with American poets and professors of creative writing John Brantingham and Grant Hier. I ended up with quite a few books, as you might expect, and wished I could have attended more of the parallel sessions, although my brain would not have thanked me for it!

There were also plenty of readings, book launches, and an opportunity to connect with publishers and magazines that were previously only half-known to me, such as V Press, Ellipsis, Molotov Cocktail and the National Flash Fiction Day anthologies.

Meg Pokrass reading from her new collection Alligators at Night.

Although there were lots of breaks in-between sessions, allowing us time to talk, have coffee and cake, wander around the grounds and generally recharge our batteries, I have to admit I felt exhausted by the end of the weekend. And I don’t think it was just because of all the running around that you have to do as a volunteer, but because of the density of information and ideas that you are taking in all the time. However, it was fascinating to connect with people who were so generous with their time and explained patiently the ‘rules’ of flash fiction to me. I am certainly planning to try it out more in the future. And possibly attend again next year!

22 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Festival Bristol 2018”

    1. Doesn’t it just? Although I have to admit I did sneak in some cultural events the previous weekend too, I simply didn’t have the time to write about them though…

  1. Sounds like a wonderful time, Marina Sofia. I’m very glad that there is a community and a gathering devoted to flash fiction. It’s a vibrant way of telling a story, and I respect people who do it really well.

    1. It seems to be a form growing in popularity and I can see why: it is so easy to commit to its length, both as a writer and a reader, without feeling that you have wasted a lot of time if it doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

  2. How far is it from where you live to the UK? Did you have to fly? My brother flies occasionally here in the USA. Sounds like airport “security” is not only ridiculously rigorous (a 15-min inspection), but also an ordeal that moneyed people can buy their way out of. In the latter case, it sounds to me like rather a joke.

    1. Oh, I love those botanical gardens – and Bristol overall. It was also the Harbour Festival in Bristol, so I was afraid it was going to be very busy in town. But I didn’t have time to go anywhere else.

  3. I can sympathise with your frustration about being able to produce something half decent in a workshop. I am hopeless at that too – I need time for my thoughts to percolate before I can commit them to paper

    1. I’ve felt that before with the Geneva Writers’ Group workshops, when everyone seemed to be able to write something much better than me in class. But here it was even more extreme, probably because of their familiarity with the short form.

    1. That was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek statement, especially since there don’t seem to be any rules in flash fiction, other than word count. Ideally, it should also be a story, have some kind of narrative arc, although I have heard many that were simply vignettes (but implied a story that came before or after).

      1. Flash fiction is fun to write and a challenge to write well. My fondness for experimental fiction leaves me a little wary of ‘teaching’ writing in any form. The growth in creative writing classes demonstrates this is a minority view. Glad you had an enjoyable and interesting weekend 🙂

        1. As with all of these creative writing classes, they teach some tricks and techniques, but they cannot give you that extra spark of talent. I’ve seen perfectly competent pieces coming out of such workshops or courses, but they haven’t excited me. However, if you do have those bright ideas and talent, they can really help polish it.

  4. I’m sad I wasn’t able to go as I know almost all of them from courses and writer’s groups. It would have been lovely to meet them and the program sounded so good. Lucky you. Or rather – disorganized me. Yeah well.

      1. It would have been very nice.
        I’m a bad planner – or rather a last minute kind of person that’s why I end up never going to these things. I need to work on it.

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