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When Worlds Collide

commentary by Oonah V. Joslin, Editor of Every Day Poets

I recently joined a writer’s group – a real live writer’s group that is as opposed to a cyber-group — and as coincidence would have it, that day they were doing their very first exercise in flash fiction.

That immediately put me at my ease.

The introduction to this exercise was a published flash from Mslexia, a print writer’s magazine based here in Newcastle upon Tyne (I haven’t made it into that one – yet). Now whereas at the beginning of the session there was some consternation as to whether it was possible to complete an entire story in so few words, by the end it was clear that we had some natural flash fiction writers in the group.

As they read their flashes aloud, others expressed their surprise and delight at the amount of detail you could get into so short a work – ‘My goodness that’s practically a novel!’  And as I have seen happen many times in my regular flash forums, immediacy was its own reward.

As every teacher knows, nothing succeeds like success.  And there they had it; a piece of work that with just a little polish, was a complete story and as I was quick to point out, publishable.  I think I would be right in saying that I was the only person there who had any flash published and when I immediately suggested a couple of e-zines that might be interested in publishing this or that and I could see it come as a revelation that you don’t have to wait to finish that novel to get your work out there and get read.

I, of course, came to flash via the world of the internet forum.

WriteWords.org is a U.K. based internet site and when I joined it three years ago, I too had never heard of flash fiction.  I thought I might write some short stories and concentrate mostly on poetry but they had two very lively flash forums going and I at once found flash exhilarating and rather addictive.  It was fun!

The weekly challenges there and the supportive comments have since been the catalyst for much of my online work.  I’ve undoubtedly written enough words over the past three years to have produced a novel by now but then it was never my ambition to write a novel.  In fact it rather irritates me that people suspect that to be the only goal of a writer.  I have always had a preference for short stories, myself.

So I for one am extremely glad of the growing interest in flash here in Britain.

Mslexia, I have already mentioned is one magazine where flash is welcomed and they run regular flash competitions with details posted on their website.  There are also some great multimedia mags, such as Greatest Uncommon Denominator, GUD for short (and you won’t find me in that one either), which get you into print, online in PDF format and on Kindle – but they don’t do the dishes for you or feed the cat. Charles Christian runs Ink, Sweat & Tears, which is a very handsome webzine taking flash and also experimental work that smudges the line between flash and poetry (I’m in that), and The Pygmy Giant takes work only up to 800 words and only by British writers. They make no apology that; it is their avowed aim to encourage new writers in the U.K.

In fact if you search under the category flash fiction at Duotrope you will find almost a hundred British magazines, half of them online, that take flash these days and that’s a pretty healthy market I’d say.

In Ireland there are only five, and the only one of them of which I have personal experience. It is the very beautiful The Linnet’s Wings.  They take both flash, up to 1000 words, and micro fiction, defined there as up to 400 words.

Apart from being beautiful online and in print, where else can you get your work placed in The Bodlean Library, Cambridge University Library and Trinity College Dublin amongst others?  I tell you – I feel as if I made it at last!  Just think – you go to the online catalogue at one of the world’s most prestigious libraries and look up little Oonah V Joslin from Ballymena, and there she is in the Winter Issue of The Linnet’s Wings in Winter 2009/10, automatically un-nobodied.

There’s a truly bewildering amount of writing stuff going on out there if you look for it, new writers inside ancient walls, older writers in university campuses, webzines galore and all available at the touch of a keyboard these days.  When you bring all these factors together it adds up to an explosion of talent just waiting for the touch paper to be lit.

And so now I sometimes leave my cyber world behind and go out into the real one.

I’m hoping to persuade some of my flesh and blood contacts to visit the world of web-zines, which some of them may not have considered – we all tend to shy away from the unfamiliar.  And hopefully it’ll get to a stage where, when flash is mentioned, everybody knows what it is. Because although the parameters in terms of length are not set it stone, I think that very short fiction is a skill that deserves to be honored and an art form that deserves its place with the rest.

I hope in a small way, I can do my bit to promote British flash fiction.

copyright 2010 by Oonah V. Joslin

Oonah V. Joslin is a much-published author of both fiction and poetry and serves as Managing Editor of Every Day Poets, the on-line daily poetry magazine.  In addition too many print and on-line publications, her work has been anthologized in  Best of Every Day Fiction 2008, Toe Tags and A Man of Few Words. She blogs about writing at Oonahverse.

5 Responses

  1. […] Check out Oonah’s thoughts on the state of flash fiction in Britain at When Worlds Collide. […]

  2. I agree Oonah. Flash is small but can be beautiful.

  3. I agree Oonah. And I think very short fiction is a form made for the web where readers have shorter attention spans.

  4. I think it’s just the physicality of reading on line that’s different – not so much the attention span as the size of a page and flicker factor. Flash caters perfectly for these limits and yet still offers a rich reading experience as does poetry.

    Thank you for your comments.

  5. […] When Worlds Collide essay about e-zines […]

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