Writing prompt – flash

Footprint. Photo by Judy DarleyJune is a joyful month for all things flash fiction-related, with National Flash Fiction Day UK happening on Saturday 15th June, with events happening nationwide and the Flash Flood journal publishing flashes throughout the day. My story Clatter will appear on the journal at around 11.10 a.m. BST.

Flash Fiction Festival is celebrating the mastery of the shortest literary prose form, from Friday 28th until Sunday 30th June.

Over in New Zealand, Micro Madness has begun, publishing a 100-word tale every day between now and 22nd June, which is Flash Fiction Day in New Zealand. My shortlisted tale Aftermath went live on 4th June.

Happily, each of these mini word-hits also serves as a fantastic creative prompt, firing up synapses with possibilities. Why not drop by to see what journey the published stories can set you off on?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

The arrival of immersive cinema

Sanctuaries of Silence_ecologist Gordon HemptonLimina is the UK’s first immersive cinema VR Arts venue, and just happens to have cropped up on Bristol’s harbourside. Outside, it looks like just another building, but inside, you’ll discover oceans, rainforests, architectural marvels, and wild places that are on the brink of disappearing from the real world.

On entering you’re invited to relinquish bags and coats: “It’s best to be as unencumbered as possible.”

When the time for the screening begins, we and our fellow travellers (each screening allows a maximum of 12 people), were led into a room where swivel chairs with plump cushions awaited. So far, so low-tech. Our hosts handed out headsets, warned about possible dizziness and advised us to close our eyes briefly to regain our balance if necessary.

Limina Immersive exterior

The first scene that appeared was an illustration of Avon Gorge and Clifton Suspension bridge, with a few static hot air balloons for good measure. Even this doodled scene was entire, so that if you turned in your chair the view continued, with the river stretching onwards. A calming female voice explained what was about to happen, and that Limina means ‘between things.’ I actually googled the word afterwards, and discovered it also means: “The threshold of a physiological or psychological response” and “an entrance’, which seems very apt.

We’d chosen to attend Cathedrals and Rainforest, a double-bill exploring the power of natural and man-made sanctuaries.

Our first short screening was The Man Behind Notre Dame, by TARGO. In the company of Rector-Archpriest Patrick Chauvet, we explored the cathedral’s most imposing and private spaces, pre-fire, joining him in his preparations and attending part of a mass where I found myself taking a gulp of air, expecting inhale incense. For me, the vertiginous views from among the gargoyles atop one of the towers offered a moment of breathtaking awe.

Sanctuaries of Silence_accoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton

Our second journey, Sanctuaries of Silence by Adam Loften, Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee and Go Project, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hampton invited us to enter the Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. It’s actually a place I’ve visited, and again I was aware of how much I understand the world through smell, as I sought the aroma of the trees dripping with moss. Our guide led us into the forest of immense Sitka spruce and onto Ruby Beach, surrounding us in layers of natural sounds as well as the calming beauty of these places. It was a highlight of the virtual reality experience, resetting my mind from the hubbub of Bristol’s city centre.

There’s something extraordinary about these films that capture a location so completely. Since the fire that occurred in Notre Dame, this particular viewing offers a gateway to a location now drastically changed. While in the screening, you can gaze in every direction and take in the true grandeur of architecture now lost in the real world.

The same was true in the second film of our double bill. The demands of modern life mean many of us spend little time deep in the countryside, and this was a much needed pause in pace.

I emerged feeling I’d been away on a walking holiday or to a spa, refreshed and rejuvenated. It seemed strange that less than 30 minutes had passed. I catch myself already wondering which event to swim into next. Perhaps Ocean, Body, Mind?

In future, I suspect smell and texture will play a larger role in these immersive events. For now, these experiences offer brief pockets of respite I think would be beneficial on a regular basis – perhaps on prescription – to keep our brains in check and remind us of the world beyond our city streets. Wonderful.

Find out what’s on and book tickets.

How to write a themed short story collection

FJ Morris This is Not About David Bowie giveawayJPGToday’s guest post comes from FJ Morris, flash fiction writer extraordinaire and author of the short story collection This is (not about) David Bowie. Here she shares her seven top tips for putting together a successful themed short story collection.

I’m a big fan of restrictions. They force you to be more focused and more creative. That’s why I wanted a central idea or concept for a collection. It wasn’t until someone asked me to write a chapbook that the idea struck me like lightning from the heavens. Permission had been given. David Bowie had spoken.

My flash fiction collection ‘This is (not about) David Bowie’ isn’t about him, but it’s inspired by his music and art, and that title was one of the first things I came up with. The collection would never be about David Bowie, but about us. I was drawn to the same themes, the same topics, and had the same upward stare towards space that David Bowie had. I didn’t really see it at the time. My subconscious made those connections for me.

So with 20/20 hindsight, here are my tips on putting together a themed short story collection.

1 Get inspired

When you choose a theme or concept, it really needs to get you excited. It should be an ‘Aha’ moment. Angels should sing. Clouds will part. Ideas will begin to flood in. It should make you glad to be alive. Because it’s about the things that matter you, the song in your heart will sing and shout when the connection is made to the right idea. You may not fully see why at first, but you’ll see and feel its impact.

2 Live in it

Whether that’s through music, art, reading, rolling around or just stewing in thought, spend time dreaming. Let your dream state surround you so that it seeps into your subconscious. When you come to write, it’ll be there, bubbling away.

My best stories popped up when the theme was held in the peripheral of my vision. I’d start with an idea, a Bowie starting point, and then let it grow.

3 Have courage

Not everything you write will or should make the cut. But write it anyway. Every act of creation is an act of courage, of love. Leave fear and doubt at the door. Show up for yourself and only yourself. Embrace the mess that you’re about to create, because it should be wild. That’s what growing is all about.

If Bowie can teach us anything, then it’s to be bold with ourselves. Take those risks.

4 Think outside the book

Break outside of the box. It wasn’t until I had some distance and came at it again that I could look at the collection differently. I stopped looking at it as a book and started seeing it as an album. I needed to add more to it: rhythm, bass lines, movement, tempo, volume changes, signalling.

It was Bowie’s music and a booked called The Voyager Record: A Transmission by Anthony Michael Morena that helped me envision a different sort of collection; one that would mix short stories, Bowie quotes, flash fiction, plays and poems. Like an album, I wanted to give people a sense of journey, and a sense of order, mystery and growth on their way through the collection. Quotes from Bowie act as sign-posts of what was to come.

It was Bowie who gave me permission and inspiration to do more than what was expected – to go beyond the conventional.

5 Question everything…

It’s important to ask yourself some difficult questions: What is the point? Why does this matter? Why should it matter to anyone else? Why am I doing this?

Each time I went back to the drawing board, I went back with a critical eye and questions. Have I been true to Bowie, true to myself? What doesn’t feel right?

One thing I really noticed on the last round was that I had some missing voices, some missing stories, including one on friendship and one about fatherhood. So I went back in.

6 Let go

FJ Morris collection book trail

You will never know when to let it go. Someone else will make that decision for you because of time or opportunity. Recognise it. Embrace it. There’s more I could’ve done with my collection; more I could look at, rewrite, redo, reimagine. That’s the wonderful thing about creativity – it doesn’t finish, it evolves with you.

This collection will forever be a snapshot of a time in my life, and it should stay that way – flaws and all. Art is not about perfection. It’s about being human and being true to who you are.

7 Have fun and ignore what doesn’t serve you

FJ Morris This Is Not About David Bowie

Throw out any rules or advice or tips (even these here) if they don’t serve you. Give yourself permission. Give yourself time.

This is supposed to be fun. Enjoy every minute of creating it. Embrace who you are and how different you might be. What makes you different will make your writing different too, and that really is something to celebrate and get excited about. Follow what’s in your heart.

In the words of David Bowie: I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.

FJ MorrisAbout the author

FJ Morris is a proud Bristolian and award-winning author. Her collection This is (not about) David Bowie was published by Retreat West Books in November 2018 and received a special mention in the Saboteur Awards for Best Short Story Collection in 2019.

She’s been published in numerous publications in the UK and internationally, and shortlisted for a variety of awards. Recently, you can find her stories soaring the skies thanks to a short story vending machine in a Canadian airport, and gracing pillows in a hotel in Indonesia. You can also find her stories in Bare Fiction, Halo, The Fiction Desk, Popshot, National Flash Fiction Day anthologies, and many more.

All gifs via GIPHY.

Read my review of This is (not about) David Bowie by FJ Morris.

Got some writing insights to share? I’m always happy to receive feature pitches on writing genres and writing tools. Send an email to JudyDarley(at)iCloud.com.