Thursday, 11 July 2013

An interview with National Flash Fiction Day's Calum Kerr

My guest today is 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 available from Amazon or from the publisher, Cinder House.

So I tidied up Broken Biro Towers - sweeping puns under the settee and tittivating the double entendres - and settled down to ask Callum a few questions about flash (or 'micro', or short short) fiction:

Why flash? What's so good about short short stories?

Because a novel tries to give you all the answers but a short story, especially flash, does little more than pose questions. Given nothing more than the outline, the reader then has to paint it in for themselves. It’s more satisfying, I think, and stays with you longer.

Also, from a writer’s point of view, you can experiment, try things, play around, without the long term commitment of a novel.

Flash in a pan or here to stay?

Well, it’s only had the name ‘flash-fiction’ for twenty years, but it’s been around a lot longer than that. People are already challenging that name, so I imagine it will fade out, but the short short story will always be with us, I think.

Where does your inspiration come from?

Can I quote Douglas Adams and say ‘a mail order company in Cleveland’? Seriously, though, it comes from everyehere, things I see, things I hear and overhear, things I read, things I watch on TV and in the cinema, and more than anything from my experience of being alive, interacting with friends (and enemies) and family, and from experiencing emotion.

Slice of life or twist in the tail?

Both. Neither.  I’ve written both, but I don’t privilege one over the other. Twisty ones can be all about the punchline, which weakens them as stories. Slicey ones can be all setting and no plot. I think I try and find a middle ground. The ending might be a surprise, but it is truly formed from the content that comes before it. Slice of life, with a twist, then.

What's your No.1 tip for someone just experimenting with the form?

Just go for it. Write whatever you want, as often as you can, and don’t worry about the quality. It’s about feeling your way and that’s something you only get with practice.

And No.2?

Edit like crazy. Any piece of writing needs editing, but flash even more so. Did the first draft come out at 400 words? I bet you could make it 200 without missing the point and, in fact, while making the whole thing stronger.

Who are your favourite flash fictioneers / recommended reading as examples of the form?

David Gaffney was the first flash-fictioneer that I read. He has such a wonderful ability with the tiny tale. Sawn-Off Tales was where I started, and as soon as I get paid I’m going to buy his new one, More Sawn-Off Tales. I also enjoy Tania Hershman and Vanessa Gebbie. Kevlin Henney writes amazing things, as does Valerie O’Riordan. Oh, and Jenny Adamthwaite has my eternal jealousy for what she achieves.

Anything else you'd like to say about flash fiction?

Yes. I think what’s interesting about it is that it’s new. The form has been around for ages, as I said, but it’s only in recent years that it has been classified and arguments still rage over what exactly it is. This means we get to make our own definitions, to help mould this form into a shape, or, more likely, explore how the ways in which it’s impossible to mould, to categorise, or confine. It’s a very exciting time to be writing a very exciting form of story.


  1. I've never tried my hand at Flash Fiction, BB. But you may have just whetted my appetite. There must be something in've posted twice! Keep Calm and Callum On.

    1. Ahem... I shall say this only once. I think you would excel, M!

  2. I couldn't access this straight off my Facebook page - had to go to yours to link to it. Otherwise it just said 'Server error - site may be being updated'. So it took me AGES to get to this blog on short fiction ...

  3. A brilliant post, Calum.
    There are few things more satisfying than trimming four or five hundred words down to two hundred and the story you have created is shining out at you.

    1. I agree Joanna! It's like a sculptor chipping away at the block of stone to find the work of art! 8-)