The power of flash fiction

A compilation of flash fiction from several highly regarded authors was recently published in The New Yorker so it must be on trend!

Two names I recognised were Haruki Murakami and Joyce Carol Oates.

I’d always thought of flash fiction as very really extremely short stories but the pieces in The New Yorker appear longer than 500 words.

This led me to search for a definition of the term. It turns out that flash fiction can vary wildly in length, from a few words up to 1500 words.

In comparison, a short story is ‘several’ pages long and a lot more words. The next step is the novelette* followed by the novella. (*I’d never heard of it either. It’s a 7500-17,000 word story whereas a novella is 10,000-40,000 words)

A good way to learn the art of flash fiction is to read it and write it.

Doh!

Here’s how: The Australian Writers’ Centre runs Furious Fiction, a monthly flash fiction competition. The word count is up to 500 words and entrants must also include specific criteria that changes each month. This might be words, the placement of nominated words (at the start or end of the story), an event or a reference to an image.

The competition is launched at COB on the first Friday of the month and closes at midnight on the Sunday. I’ve entered about five times since COVID-19 and haven’t even made the short- or highly-commended lists! (the judges have yet to appreciate my talent 😉

The competition, which has a $500 prize for the winner, attracts more than 1000 entries from around the world. I love reading the winners’ stories. They are soooo impressive.

I don’t get down about not making the cut (not for long!). I see the competition as a writing lesson and an opportunity to flex my creative muscle. It’s practise.

There are hundreds of flash fiction writing courses available online. But there’s a lot to be said for reading the works of accomplished authors.

If you’re looking for a regular masterclass on how to write flash fiction, grab a copy of Good Weekend magazine in the Saturday edition of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Melbourne. Flick to the back of the mag for Kitchen Sink Drama by Paul Connolly.

Every week, Connolly delivers anywhere from 100-150 words crafted into a small story that captures the essence of our small lives. The Melbourne based freelance journalist and author often writes about absurd and inconsequential events, creating quirky vignettes of what we might consider to be insignificant moments in time.

Connolly’s tight sharp prose filled with a gentle humour and empathy evokes an emotional response in the reader. He touches a nerve that defines humanity and weaves it into a mini masterpiece.

It’s exciting news that Connolly’s stories, accompanied by the illustrations of Jim Pavlidis, will be available in one big book just before Christmas. I, for one, will pre-order several copies. One for me, and a couple for friends.

But in the meantime, you can enjoy Connolly’s wonderful flash fiction online.

I can be a cranky old cow, and more so when it comes to bad journalism

I’m at an age where I can barely tolerate any form of social injustice.

I  can’t stand ratbags who litter our planet with takeaway coffee cups, plastic straws and other garbage… (don’t get me started on smokers and fishermen/women who drop their filthy cigarette butts, fishing lines and empty plastic bait bags without a thought for the local wildlife and environment).

I would like to see low life who dump rubbish in rivers and bush reserves hurled in the can.

Nor can I handle arseholes who think it’s reasonable to drive their ridiculous 4WD/SUVs (what the f…. is the difference? Don’t bother telling me, I don’t care) right onto the beach or nature strip because they can get away with it.

And then there’s the climate-change deniers, fossil-fuel supporters, corrupt politicians and radio shock jocks.

*TAKES DEEP BREATH*

But now I have a new addition to my list – it is the vacuous journalist who should, under no circumstances, be given column space.

I won’t name the culprit who set me off but her article caused me to shake my head in dismay that such utter crap could get an airing in a Sunday newspaper lifestyle magazine.

The 40-something “journalist” revealed all about her devastating experience at a function she attended in the role of guest speaker.

Wearing a Zimmerman frock she’d snapped up for half the retail price ($350 rather than $700), she entered a room full of women to find they were wearing Gucci and Valentino.

But worse than this, they weren’t interested in what she had to say because they were too busy chatting to each other about Aspen and au pairs.

It knocked the journalist for six. Poor baby. She felt so out of place.

In her own words, she went into a “spiral of self doubt”.

“In this room full of women so seemingly at ease with themselves and their surrounds” the journalist realised she didn’t fit in.

I kept reading because I thought the journalist would have something to say about the egregious behaviour of these women – about how empty and delusional their lives must be as they are forever scrabbling over each other on the one-upmanship ladder and terrified that their husbands are screwing the au pair.

But instead of creating a social commentary piece, the journalist moaned about her surprise at having hurt feelings at the age 40.

She had suffered a debilitating crisis of confidence.

To address this mid-life trauma, the journalist did four things:

She 1. got a meditation app 2. bought a tent (from Aldi) 3. read a book written by a contemporary self-help/self-love guru and 4. started journalling.

For me, the article revealed more about the journalist’s self absorption and lack of personal awareness –  missing a far more interesting angle that wasn’t all about her.

I would have been on-board if she’d listed 1. bought tent and gave it to Vinnies 2. donated Zimmerman frock to Salvos 3. read good fiction 4. started writing about things that matter.

It is an indictment of this relatively new enlightened movement where self love/self care has taken precedence over giving back to the community.

The real story is about those people who are so up their own behinds that they have no time for the big picture stuff. They’re the ones who park on the sand and throw their takeaway skinny cap cups out the window.

Selfish and disengaged from the real world, real people and real issues.

It is disappointing to see what passes for journalism in 2018.

If this is it, we’re all doomed.