Tag Archive | David Shakes

Spotlight on Scotland: F.E. Clark

Today we conclude our series of global #Spotlight interviews by spending a few moments with F.E. Clark, who writes and paints in Scotland. It’s been a pleasure getting to read F.E.’s work here and at other places on the flash circuit; I’m also gratefully thrilled (thrilledly grateful?) to share with you she is generously contributing a book to this week’s Flashversary prize pot. You’ll see that mentioned a bit later on in the interview.

Thank you so much, F.E., for putting up with all my questions (35, did you say??? surely not!!!), and answering them so honestly and graciously. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you here at FF, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for you! Welcome to #Spotlight — here’s the mic. 🙂

FE Clark

 

Tell us about your writerly journey.

One way or other I have always written; recently I have begun to share some of it.  Thanks to my parents, voracious readers who made sure of trips to the library and gave books as gifts – I have always loved reading.  The books of Enid Blyton, the tales of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, C.S. Lewis, William Burrough’s Tarzan, all brought exotic adventure to my childhood.  Early on I insisted I was going ‘up the Amazon’ – this is a trip I have still to make in reality.

While being a reader was acceptable when I was younger, the idea that one might call oneself a writer or an artist was something else.  I was brought up on a farm, I was a quiet and solitary child, books were my friends and where I learnt what I needed to learn, my journals were my confidants. 

I would love to write novels.  I have a character who appeared a piece of flash fiction – whose story will perhaps lead me into a novel.   Currently I am writing flash fiction and short stories.  I am delighted to be part of the Flashdogs community, and have two stories submitted for their next anthology along with one story written collaboratively with the fabulous Voima Oy

How do you balance (and find inspiration for) both writing AND painting?

Although I have in the past been terribly stuck, I find now, that it is time and energy that lacks first, rather than inspiration.  Writing and painting feed each other.  I am inspired by the magical land, sea, mountains and forests around me.  I am very lucky in this respect.  I believe that creativity comes in waves – the scrying for ideas, researching, drafting, editing, more editing, resting, thinking, beginning again – all part of the process of making something.  Often we can be on one part of the wave and mistake it for being stuck. 

I am still learning to balance all the elements in my life.  Juggling whilst running on water – I have learnt neither.  Spiders love our house, I never reach the bottom of the laundry basket, there is paint under my fingernails and on the sleeves of most of my clothes.  Still, I am here, I write, I paint.

What does your daily writerly life look like?

I live on the mainland of North East Scotland.  I write mostly at home; I may make notes long-hand then transfer to my laptop, editing as I go.  It gets cold in our cottage, I often write in bed wrapped up in jumpers, furry hat firmly on my head.  Coffee is required. Living in a rural area, there is nowhere locally where I would go to write in public.  When venturing further afield, I might write in the notebook I always carry, over a ‘fine’ coffee.  It is not rare to see people sitting with laptops and notebooks in cafes and libraries here.

Being part of groups is another balancing act – to have the autonomy, space and energy to write, but also be involved in some sort of community.  Thanks to David Shakes, I am very glad I found the Flashdogs community online.

I have recently joined the Dundee and Angus Writers group as an associate member (I don’t live close enough to attend their meetings) and have submitted my first two pieces of flash fiction to one of their contests.  I joined this group due to the enthusiasm of one of its members, Elizabeth Frattaroli, whom I met on a writing course this year.  I have enjoyed keeping in touch with Elizabeth, who is currently writing a YA book, and we have met to catch up since at the Dundee Contemporary Art gallery café.

There are many opportunities to attend writing workshops, book festivals and courses in Scotland.  We have The Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland, and public libraries – all good resources for a creative person to investigate.  This year I have attended a week-long workshop on novel writing at Moniack Mhor Writers’ Centre with the authors Jess Richards, Rachel Seiffert and Peter Salmon as tutors; a short workshop via the city library led by Alan Spence, and a writing workshop at Barry Mill near Carnoustie led by Sandra Ireland

What’s the publishing situation like from what you can see?

In common with the other countries, to get published here one needs an agent.  Many publishers will not read unsolicited manuscripts.  Even for published authors, new work must be commercially viable to make it to print.  Self-publishing has become much more common, but leaves the author with the roles of proofing, editing, publicity, distribution.  I look to those who go before me for their experiences of this journey, as I have yet to venture far.

Tell us about books and/or authors who’ve inspired you!

Books and authors who have inspired – too many to list them all, but here are a few:

Isabelle Allende for the magical realism in her novels and her YA books, Annie Proulx for the crystal clear detail in The Shipping News and her anthologies of short stories.  Haruki Murakami for the wonderful surreal quality of his novels, and allowing an autobiographical view of his life in, What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningStephen King: his books made me really see the meaning of a story being character led, and his book, On Writing, I would recommend to any genre of writer.  Julia Cameron, for all her books on creativity, starting with The Artists’ WayPatricia Cornwell’s early books, Elly Griffiths, William Gibson, China MievilleNeil Gaiman, Michel Faber, Joanne Harris…. [list cut down from a million trillion fabulous names].

Who are your favorite Scottish writers (both of all time, and today)? For someone unfamiliar with Scottish writers, which authors/books would you recommend starting with?

On Scottish writers: you may have heard of Robbie Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Lewis Grassic Gibbon, so here are a few others I would recommend. Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain about the fabulous Cairngorms. Any of Andrew Grieg’s lyrical yet gritty writing.  Written in Doric, the dialect which is local to me (we got strapped for talking in it when I was at school), The Waater Mannie by Neil Mutch – is the story of a water diviner in the North East of Scotland written in his own words.  For those who love the thriller/mystery/police novel – Val McDermid, Stuart McBride, Anne Cleeves, Iain Banks, Ian Rankin.  Or, Irvine Welsh, Christopher Brookmyre, Louise Welsh [list cut down from another million trillion fabulous names].

What are you reading now?

I am due some time to catch up with the lovely stack of books growing by my bedside; there never seems to be enough time, and my poor brain loves to launch into the stories of others.  At the moment I am reading Island of Wings, by Karen Altenberg.  The novel is set in the 1830s on the island of St Kilda, off the west coast of Scotland. I am enjoying it very much.  I am also reading from Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times, a beautiful anthology of poetry to dip into.

Who else has inspired you?

People who not only walk, but make their own path inspire me.  My parents – farmers both, my father surviving two strokes and still turning wooden bowls and learning to use a e-book reader.  My partner’s belief in me is inspiring.  Meg Robinson, whose life drawing classes I attended as a teenager, down in the red light district of Aberdeen, has been a huge inspiration to me – artist, writer, teacher, humanitarian.  Meg lives in Spain now and it is her book Drawn By a Star, that I am adding to the Flashversary pot of prizes, as I have not written my own…… yet. 

Final comments for the flash family?

I only began participating in this flash community in February of this year.  I counted, and during this time I have written over 100 pieces of flash (a miracle for me, nothing to the more prolific writers).  I am sad that Flash! Friday and Microbookends are both ending, and am very grateful to all who create these safe places for people like me to write in.  I trust there will be more as things move and flow.  I wish the Dragon-Queen well. 

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 47: WINNERS

HURRAY — it’s party time!! Thanks so much for coming back; I trust you’ve brought kazoos and streamers. If not, please head over to the gigantic Party Wing of the lair and help yourself. We’ve always got plenty. And to those of you NaNo’ing this month: wishing you (and me) brilliant success!!! How’s your Day Two so far?

A couple of quick notes/reminders:

  • You’re needed! We’re lining up NOW the next eight folks to take a turn as judge starting in December. Details here. It’s a fantastic way to give back to the FF community as well as grow in your own writing. Please join me! else it’s going to be a very depressing Year Four.
  • THANK YOU for all who turned up to crit the #Pyro story this week! Some wonderful comments; and I’m certain I can speak for the (anonymous) writer in conveying thanks. Would love more stories to choose from — send ’em in! (here; please remark at the top it’s for #Pyro)

♦♦♦♦♦

Many thanks to Dragon Team Six, Steph Ellis & Josh Bertetta, for daring to examine your Frankenstein stories under the sickly green light I provided them. Steph says:   

I really can’t believe this is Josh’s and my penultimate judging session.  It’s gone so quickly and we’ve had so little to argue about.  Every month our choices have spookily run along the same lines leading to very civilised discussions over placings and this week was no exception.

As always, a big thank you to my daughter Bethan for stripping the stories for us; she is looking forward to the end of my judging stint!

Frankenstein was a great choice for Halloween, although not so for any poor trick-or-treaters who may have knocked on my door … with my earplugs in and a Banshees soundtrack I didn’t hear them.  So, here are our Samhain results:

♦♦♦♦♦

SPECIAL MENTIONS

Becky Spence, “Fallen Angel.” –SE: A rebirth in the dark, a creature alien even to himself.  He has ‘ghosts of memories’ that were not his, writes a language he does not understand, cannot speak.  All he can do is walk, find his way out of the darkness and seek his answers.  He gets his answer when he opens the door and sees himself in the mirror.  The horror here is the situation the monster is in as a being, not in what has been done to others but what was done to him. JB: Here our protagonist is at the lowest point of the Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” the part where we must confront the dark. I love the setting here, for it exquisitely captures the darkness and the desperation and the feeling of helplessness, the groping for a way out. But there is only one, and our author tells us exactly what is it—for all of us.   

Voima Oy, “Memory Wife.” —SE: ‘She lived in the cloud now’.  Heaven and computer storage combined.  Society has moved on, but still caters for ‘outdated people with old dreams and obsolete things’, allowing Ben to recreate his late wife.  The sadness lies in the ease with which the younger generation, his son, the shop assistant, think how such things, such people are easily replaceable. JB: A story of a timeless theme: the inability to let go of a lifelong love, but with a little twist of futurism. Mourning is a process of moving through loss. Grief. We all experience it. But what happens to a fundamental human emotion (and experience) when technology allows us the possibility of not having to move through that kind of pain? Do we not lose part of what makes us human? 

A.J. Walker, “Frankenwriter.” — SE: Of course this made it into the list.  I laughed at the overtones of Stephen King’s Misery as poor old Karl and other FlashDogs (Liz, Ronin, Sal, a certain Mr King) were used and abused to create a winning story.  One way of getting rid of the opposition, and all to a Bach soundtrack. JB: Much like last time I judged, here is a take on the ol’ self-referential Flash!Friday/FlashDog theme (which I’ve done myself). A fun take on the prompt. Made me smile.

C. Centner, “Author Submission.” — SE: An academic abstract declares the purpose and results of Frankenstein’s experiment and then moves on to give firm warnings.  Anyone following this path in future should use the ‘flesh of cute creatures (bunnies, kittens, etc)’, the monster having been an ‘appalling and repulsive character’.  And above all, they must name their monster.  Frankenstein’s frustration at being identified as the monster rather than the creator shines through ‘No, dammit! I’m Frankenstein!’  Scientists and authors beware! JB: Perhaps the most unique formats of this week’s stories, here we have an abstract for a scholarly paper. Compounded in this piece however, are issues we continue (and will probably always continue) to face: the relationship between science and morality.

 

♦♦♦♦♦

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Brian Creek, “Kill.exe.”

SE – Always a danger when new technology evolves that the military will jump in and try to use it for more sinister ends.  I particularly enjoyed this story because although they had achieved a ‘scientific miracle’, it wasn’t what the military had requested.  The image of a powerfully built robot sat peacefully with a wolf cub in his lap and birds perched on his rifle, contemplating a beautiful morning made me smile.  I hope he doesn’t get ‘fixed’.

JB– Another great story with a killer ending. In a militarized world such as our where some countries spend so much money to build the perfect and most efficient killing machines, here is the story of the creation of such, if it were not for one simple thing (captured in the penultimate line) which renders the perfect killing machine imperfect. Part of me says “hurray” for humanity; with another part I drop my head and shake it.

Marie McKay, “The Help.” 

SE – Sometimes I think we have become desensitized to domestic violence and it needs a piece like this to give us a wake up call.  By transferring the sufferings of an abused woman to a feeling robot and describing them in terms usually applied to living flesh makes it once more truly horrific.  The robot ‘tastes the blood of bruises on her tongue’, is left broken on the floor as the husband switches his attention to her rather than his wife. “Is this life?” Unfortunately for so many women (and some men) the answer is yes.

JB– A story of what some psychologists call “displacement.” An unhappy marriage turned, seemingly happy, aided by technological advance. Technology, some say, is supposed to make life easier. And when life is easier, one would presume life is happier. The wife here would appear to be happy as her marriage seems to be on the mend—and it was all because of “her.” Her husband seems better, which, of course is better for the whole family. But how much better is he really?

Marie McKay, “Touching Reality

SE – Ah, what people do in pursuit of love, an older husband wants to make himself more youthful for his younger wife.  He experiments on rabbits, the poor creatures dying in succession before he hits on formula for rabbit #5.  But he has become impatient, doesn’t observe the results long enough and injects himself.  Blood leaks from the ear of rabbit #5, there will be no happy ending for this poor man.

JB- Here again a story, in part, of self-identity (and esteem) being based on another’s perception. The older husband here wants nothing more than his wife to be happy, but, it appears, she cannot be happy for he is nothing but an “antique.” His self-esteem as a husband is based on her being happy. Willing to do anything to achieve that goal, all his attempts to do so fail until that one, seemingly final time, but his impatience (if not his the goal itself) serves to blind him.

David Shakes, “No More Than a Trick of the Light.”

SE – A writer and his creation, which is greater, the man who brought him to life or the fiction that takes on a life of its own.  The writer’s ideas grew but they choked the fiction, ‘regurgitating imagery that splattered across page and screen’, don’t we all get like that some time. And self-doubt grows within the writer so that his creation is put away … for the moment.  The ideas expressed here should resonate with any writer.

JB – “He would often have me write of mirrors.” What a line. The “me” and the “I” of this piece are ambiguous and ambiguity heightened by the stories initial two questions, questions, I would bet, we all ask ourselves at one time or another in our lives if not more. I love the inversion toward the end, where the “protagonist,” seemingly something abstract, is more of a reality than the subject, the story’s “father,” is himself. “The myth became greater than the man.” Isn’t that, in the end, always so?

THIRD RUNNER UP

Andrew (AV) Laidlaw, “Press Ctrl-Alt-Del to Reboot

SE – This piece really makes you think on two fronts.  The statement ‘I am God’, declared on each reboot is dismissed, regarded as error or sabotage.  But who is to say who/what God is?  So many profess a faith of various forms, faith whose tenets often mention a second coming of some sort, yet as soon as anyone declares themselves that being, they are dismissed as fraudsters – but who’s to know? 

The statement ‘I am God’ can also be taken as a reflection on society.  These days computers have become almost Godlike, in control of so much of our lives.  The computer is merely stating a fact in its own logical way.

And locked away, it is an embarrassment conveniently forgotten.

JB – In a manner of speaking, the scariest of all our stories in commemoration of Halloween. Scary not because of Stephen King-esque horror element. This is not that kind of story. This is scary because it’s potential reality. Perhaps not literally in the sense of what the protagonist says (over and over again), but the implication of those very words in relation to what the protagonist is. Ah, the double-edged sword of technology!

SECOND RUNNER UP

Michael Wettengel, “Momma’s Boy” 

SE – A child’s voice lifts this story, breathing sadness through its lines.  Joshua knows he is different, made from ‘brass and copper and gold’, not like the twisted black city below.  His ‘mother’ tells him he is special, is different, he has a brain unlike his cousins who ‘tick’ or ‘clunk’.  He leads us to the last paragraph which tells his whole story, his reason for existing, he passes a picture every day where ‘Mother is in black, her hands on her lap. She’s frowning. A small, sickly boy sits on her lap. He’s wearing the same clothes I do’.  And Joshua knows he is a substitute which makes the story even sadder.

JB – I see here four central threads interwoven so tight as to appear, upon my first reading, as a single thread. First, there is the issue of our uniqueness. What is it about each one of us that sets us apart, so to speak, from others? What is that particular “thing” about each one of us? Second, there is love the mother has for her child. She sees him for what makes him unique and praises him for it. But then there is that last paragraph, where the author throws a slider to the issue of identity: that who we “are” is often determined how people see us, in this case, how the mother sees the child. And finally, there is that disturbing last line…

FIRST RUNNER UP

Michael Seese, “Frankenboy.” 

SE – Truly a monster was created but not by science; this unfortunate came about by natural selection, nurture and environment in the laboratory of the world, the ‘human junk yard’.  He details his inheritance, from his father ‘hands that naturally, reflexively formed fists’, from his mother, bruises and tears, from his grandfather, a foul mouth and bigoted mind.  And through all this he has carried on the family tradition so that now he faces the end – gladly – when he is given a lethal injection and sees his ‘hideous alchemy lost in the darkness and distance’.  Unique take on the traditional monster theme.  

JB – “Truth in simplicity” is what comes to mind when I reflect on “Frankenboy.” There is a simple pattern/repetition to this sad story, which plays on, as the title implies, Mary Shelley’s famous work. But whereas the title might conjure in the mind an image of a young version of her famous monster, there is something perhaps more disturbing going on at work here. As much as we might like to think we, as individuals, are autonomous and as much as we might like to think we make ourselves to be who we are, this story expresses the truth that such is a delusion and in some cases, that truth — the truth of who we are, as products, in part, of our past is sometimes inescapable.

And now: for a (totally disturbing) first win, it’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

Jennifer Terry!!!

for

“Creation

SE – ‘What did you do today?’ such an innocuous question, the usual husband/wife interaction demanding no more than some trite response.  And he gives it ‘tinkering in his lab’, a bit like the traditional housewife and her supposed ‘pottering around the house’, looked down on and not really valued despite the real work going on behind the scenes.  And boy has he been busy whilst his wife has taken on the role of breadwinner, something she has clearly grown to resent.  He has achieved his dream, his perfect creation, an exact replica of his wife but amenable to all his dreams and desires.  His secret business is booming so financially he no longer has any need of the human wife and feels nothing as she dies in front of him.  A complete little story about the lengths someone will go to to get that perfect partner.  I don’t think I’ll be eating risotto any time soon!

JB– A marriage troubled by lack of trust is a marriage on the brink. Here our author puts us in a desperate setting where the husband is confronted by a wife who no longer believes in him. The distance and the frustration (for both parties) is palpable as the wife has no problem switching from voicing her frustration with her husband and commenting on the delicious food, a food so delicious she can’t help from eating more. Until, that is, she can eat no longer. There’s a great twist at the very end of this story and as much as one is led to believe the wife is the “bad guy” here, one can only wonder if such is the case, or if the husband is much more malevolent, for we not only get that great twist, but we learn something a little more about the husband and how nefarious he really is.

Congratulations, Jenn! It’s been a pleasure reading your stories here at FF, and we couldn’t be more delighted to see you up top! Please check out your very own sparkly winner’s page; your winning tale can be found there as well as (shortly) over on the winners’ wall. Please contact me asap here so I can interview you for this week’s #SixtySeconds! And now here’s your winning story:

Creation

“What did you do today?”

“Oh, just tinkered around a bit in the lab.”

“When is that little company of yours going to get off the ground, finally?”

“Soon, my dear. Soon.”

“That’s what you always say, ‘soon.’”

“I thought you believed in me. In my ideas.”

“I did. I just don’t think I can support you and your…delusions any longer.”

“What are you saying?”

She took a bite of her risotto and commented, “This is absolutely fabulous!”

“What did you mean when you said you can’t support me any longer?”

“I meant I don’t think this is working,” she muttered while shoveling a very unladylike portion into her mouth. “This is just extraordinary.”

“I’m glad you like it.” A woman emerged from the shadows. An exact replica of her, down to the arrangement of freckles across her nose and cheeks.

He watched unmoved as his wife gagged, finally falling face first into her plate.

With hundreds of back orders already for the DreamWoman 1.0, his “little company” was a runaway success. He took his great love, and greatest creation, into his arms.

FFwinner-Web

Sixty Seconds III with: Mark A. King

Ten answers to ten questions in 20 words or fewer. That’s less time than it takes to burn a match*.

(*Depending on the length of the match and your tolerance for burned fingers, obviously)

Matchlight

Our newest Flash! Friday winner is His Majesty Mark A. King.  Read his winning story here. Note that this is his THIRD!!!! yes, THIRD!!!!! win (we did predict this; and did you notice this week how he loftily swept off with the champ trophy and first runner up!? breathtaking!) — read his previous #SixtySeconds interviews here and hereThen take another minute (or two; third-time winners aren’t bound by word count) to get to know him better below.

1) What about the prompt inspired your winning piece?

I am rather obsessed by Flash! Friday and I am always looking for possible stories, settings or characters that I might use if the right prompt comes up. This one happened the day before. I have a picture calendar on my desk, when I scrunched the old picture and threw it in the bin, like I do every day, I was presented with Thursday’s picture of an amazing sculpture called the Singing Ringing Tree (although I changed the order of the words in my story). It just called to me, and I knew then that I would have to write a story about it. The story elements fitted perfectly, so I went with it.

2) How has your approach to flash changed since you started writing flash fiction?

I think it’s about 14 (ish) months since my first FF story. I’d like to think I’ve got better at focusing on the characters and less on my previous obsession with world building. I love the world building, but it’s pointless without an emotional attachment to the character. I try to do both, if I can. But it’s sooo hard with about 100 words to play with.

3) How has writing flash affected your other writing?

Up until recently flash fiction has been my only writing. I’m finding longer forms very, very frustrating. I want to take a chainsaw to my current/first novel. However, I know if I do that then I’ll just keep revisiting the beginning forever. Which is what has happened to date. So, I am writing in a continually forward direction, but my flash fiction brain can’t wait to go back and fire up the chainsaw.

4) What advice would you give to writers who are new to flash? What might you say to seasoned writers who haven’t won yet?

New writers should be true to themselves. Don’t try to copy another writer, no matter how good they are — it will only fail, as you’re not them and they’ve had longer at being themselves than you have 🙂 Experiment. Be brave and try unique ideas or structures. As a previous judge, I know that a story that is well-written but whose plot is the same as twenty other stories will not stand out. 

For those folk that are great and haven’t won yet, your time will come. A change of rules really helped me. It’s likely that a change of judges or rules might help you. It’s all subjective; don’t take it to heart. There are no bad writers at FF. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

5) Besides FF :), what are your favorite writing sites/online resources?

FF is my favourite and it is a fantastic resource for any writer. It’s an incredible place and it has changed lives (it’s so much more than being wonderful fun).

6) Any new publications/accolades we should know about?

FlashDogs Vol 3 is in the planning stages and we’re keen to find the next generation of flash fiction writers, and send them here and to the other wonderful comps.

It’ll be themed on ‘time’, with Past, Present and Future prompts, and will be launched Chinese New Year 2016. #FlashFicTime

7) Speaking of publication, what are you currently working on? Back in July you told us you were 5k into a novel. How’s that coming along?

Thanks to some prompting and advice from the Best Mentor in the Universe™ (I’m looking at you, Tamara Shoemaker), I’ve made great progress recently. I’m about 25K in now, and that’s about 10K more than I’ve managed before. It’s scary as I know how much work I have yet to do. Then when I’ve finished, that’s just the beginning of another stage. It’s a bit pathetic, but I have a lot on and I’m super proud that I got this far. I’m kinda excited by the project.

8) What are you reading? Favorite book of this past year? Which author would you love to write like, and why?

Eek. This is really an awkward question. One probably best answered in a blog. I’ll write about this sometime, but it was very personal and life-changing in many respects, so it will look really odd answering it here.

9) Let’s talk writing communities. Belong to any? How about writers’ conferences or workshops this past year? Which conference/workshop is your favorite, and why?

FlashDogs, obviously 🙂

I had a rather interesting experience of a writing group last night — actually, it was the first time I’ve ever tried one. Lovely people, incredibly talented, but I don’t think this is for me. I’ll have to find other ways to fill this valuable method of writing development.

10) Let’s say you won a grant to use in any writerly way you’d like. Where would the money go, and why?

I’d buy you some sparkly things for the dragon cave, some fire-proof Cadbury, and maybe a trusted helper (like Dobby, but real – and better). {Editor’s Note: I GRATEFULLY ACCEPT!}

Bonus 11) Any shouts out/thoughts/comments/messages?

Quick shout-outs to Shakes who is on sabbatical from FDHQ. Emily June Street and Tam Rogers for just being themselves (incredible). Karl and Voima for FDHQ service to come. Tamara S for reasons mentioned above.