Marie Gethins’ work has featured in Litro, Firewords Quarterly, 2014 and 2015 NFFD Anthologies, Flash, NANO, The Lonely Crowd, Firewords Quarterly and others. She won or placed in TSS, Tethered by Letters, Flash500, Dromineer, The New Writer, Prick of the Spindle, and 99fiction.net. Marie is a Pushcart and Best of the Short Fictions Nominee. She lives in Cork, Ireland, working on her MSt in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford.
Hi Marie, thank you for this opportunity. It’s great to be able to speak to you about short fiction and well done again on winning our weekly contest the other week – ‘Blood-ties’ was a mesmerising piece.
Perhaps you could tell us a little about where the inspiration came from for this story?
This is one of those rare incidences when I had a weird dream, woke up, scribbled down the main elements (a daughter, a father living through a family ship building history) and went back to sleep. However it was vivid enough that it stayed on the edges of my mind for a few months. The story changed quite a bit once I began writing the flash—became much darker and the relationships more complex.
Could you define in your own words, what Flash Fiction is for our readers?
I can only give my personal take on the genre. Flash definitions are quite varied and the boundaries between flash and prose poem can be porous. For me, a flash has a beginning, a middle and an end. However due to the genre’s brevity, the reader does a lot of work mulling over the subtext to understand the full story. Flash can be read quickly, but there is a resonance that the reader works through long after finishing the text. There’s no room for passenger words. You have to hone the text to its minimum and think about etymology—at least I try to keep these elements in mind!
How is Flash Fiction different, in your view, from the short story?
To some degree it’s about the size of your canvas. Even within flash, word count has a strong influence on approach. How you tackle a six word story is very different to a 1000 word piece. Flash is quite distilled, so generally there are fewer characters and a strong single plot. You are relying on a lot of subtext in good flash. While that’s an element of the short story, for me it’s pivotal in great flash. There should be a lingering reverberation. Some people believe you are limited on time frame, but I’ve read some great flashes that spanned almost a lifetime.
Do you have a particular method for writing Flash Fiction?
No, but I usually have a strong sense before I begin whether a piece is going to be flash or a short story. Novels, screenplays and stage plays are the only genres that I sit and plot out before I start.
What do you think Flash Fiction provides, that other forms of writing (short stories, poetry, novels) don’t?
Poetry is a strict technical taskmaster. Sentence rhythm is important in all forms (when I’m working on something I read out loud as I write), but it is essential to poetry. You need an excellent ear. Flash is more forgiving. While I pay attention to etymology and sentence length in flash, I’m not conscious of metre.
I tend to think in terms of scenes, moments where a history collates. Flash is a nice form for this type of contemplation. It also lends itself to structural experimentation. You can play a lot with form due to its brevity. A reader is more willing to tolerate something that’s a bit odd or the need to puzzle out a story if it’s short than if they are facing into hundreds of pages.
I find with short stories you have to connect the dots a bit more, as well as provide more dots to connect! In short stories I also add much more fine detail—clothing, food, how a character looks, landscape, etc. I keep details essential in flash.
Novels are a different animal entirely: multiple storylines, drip feed of information, more pacing considerations.
Our final question, which we always ask, is what advice would you give aspiring Flash Fiction writers?
Read, read, read. There’s such a diversity of flash available (many free online), it’s amazing how clever some people are with the form. I’m always learning. Don’t fool yourself into thinking because flash is short it is easy to churn out. At least it is not for me! I do many, many drafts. I spend a lot of time on first and last sentences. Also don’t get disheartened if a piece doesn’t find a home immediately. A few tweaks or moving material around can be all it needs. Try to find a strong writing group. I run everything through my writing group. Their collective wisdom is priceless. And finally, get your work out there. Take a chance and submit. It is so gratifying to hear that your piece touched someone in a special way.
The Short Story / Hattie Beaufort / 20th October 2015