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.
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.
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!