Tuesday, 19 July 2016

In Praise of Flash Fiction and Free Writing - Lucy Coats

I have a confession. Until very recently I had no idea what flash fiction was. I saw it mentioned everywhere, but never really went into it further. In case you're the same, I can tell you that flash fiction comprises a story of approximately 100-750 words. It's basically a snapshot, showing you a moment in time, and there's an art to writing a good one.

I'm sure there is flash fiction for kids - and it might be interesting to explore that - but I got involved with it on a fantastic tutored writing retreat I went on last month up at Edale in the Peak District, organised by Wordtheatre and led by the inspirational Pamela Painter. It was a revelation. I don't, as a rule, write anything for an adult audience except poetry (and I rarely share that), however, this new form of writing seems to suit me down to the ground. I'm still very much a novice at it, but it's a brilliant way for me to get into writing every day. One of the people I met on that retreat (Meg Pokrass, a prize-winning author of flash) has started posting a series of 'prompt words' on Facebook every day. Yesterday's were: dog, crack, dreamy, frame, electricity, shhh, finger - and I used those to craft a story around, not thinking about it very much, just letting it flow into a free-writing piece of work, which I've posted below as it came out so you can see how it worked for me. I'm just finding that it throws me really easily into the writing mindset, and after that I'm doing my 'real' work of writing for children much more easily too. So do give it a go if you want to - and let me know in the comments how you get on. I'll give you some words to get you started: road, whisper, unconcerned, basket, pandemonium, Birmingham, plaster 

Here's my story:
Swearing at the dog was what I did a lot of in autumn. It was a comforting habit, satisfying as sneezing or biting off that last elusive bit of skin at the end of a hangnail. He never minded, just wagged his tail when I cursed his paws, trailing in smelly slime from the dry summer-end stream, or vented my verbal frustration as I combed out every last tiny green seed stuck in his coat from his illicit hedgerow forays.
       One October I was lost in dreamy contemplation of a new story when he sneaked under the desk and barfed up half-digested apple on my feet, looking at me with those innocent brown eyes as if he’d given me a present of great worth.
In the dark times I clung to him as if he was my life raft, hanging onto his long, furry frame as if my own life could somehow be kept afloat by his wet earsnuffle enquiries as to whether I was all right, whether I was going to creep out from under the duvet any time soon and feed him. After Mam left us, I wept to the crack and crunch of him gnawing marrow bones under the bed, a comforting counterpoint to my own pillow chewing sobs.
It was September when I lost him – that day when the electricity went out for hours, and the clock on the stable stood still and frozen till the power came back on. I’d ignored his ballooning belly for weeks, thinking it was full of gas from those damn apples he loved so much. But the vet said no. It was a tumour. Incurable, inoperable.
I held his paw, stroking it softly, over and over with one finger.
‘Shhh, darling, shhh,’ I whispered as the needle went in.

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen (Orchard, March 10th) and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review 
Lucy's Website - Twitter - Facebook - Instagram


Steve Gladwin said...

It's a wonderfully freeing idea Lucy, but even more moving what you did with it. Thank you for sharing both. It's also remarkably in tune with something I've just posted on facebook x

Lucy Coats said...

Thanks, Steve - much appreciated.

Linda Strachan said...

What a great exercise, Lucy. I am going to try one with your words today, thank you!
I loved your piece.

Lucy Coats said...

Thanks, Linda - would love to see what you do with them!

Emma Barnes said...

Absolutely loved your story, Lucy!