Tag Archive | Poised Pen

Sixty Seconds with: Catherine Connolly

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)


Our newest and final Flash! Friday winner is Catherine Connolly.  A longtime Flash! Friday writer, Poised Pen writing group member, and even a one-time guest judge here!, she’s undoubtedly familiar to all of you. Her win this week, especially as her first and our last, couldn’t be more perfect. Please take a moment to read her winning story on her winner’s page here or at the bottom of today’s interview, then take another couple of minutes to get to know her better below. Since it’s our final Sixty Seconds interview, I’ve lifted the word count restriction. Dearest Catherine, take it away!

1) What about the prompts inspired your winning piece?  Dragons – given the timing of this week’s nostalgic bidding! I couldn’t resist working backwards from the last line, given it seemed so appropriate.  I’ve also been fascinated by the concept of word worlds and the interaction between words and the reader since studying Stylistics a couple of years back, so put a slight spin on that in light of the photo prompt.  Having combined the two in terms of concept, the piece wrote itself very easily after that.

2) How long have you been writing flash? For a couple of years, after @zevonesque brought several pieces of his flash to Poised Pen meetings and Flash! Friday was mentioned.  I’ve been writing flash fiction consistently ever since.

3) What do you like about writing flash?  Many things!  Initially, I began writing flash as a variation on the ‘little and often’ method of writing to produced finished pieces within reasonable timeframes and to make them manageable, as my previous writing had been sporadic and I hadn’t written consistently, save for essays whilst studying, for a number of years.  The brevity of flash still appeals to me and encourages me to think carefully about word choice – and how many I really need!  I do think, however, the changing prompts challenge me to write stories outside of my norm, which stretches me as a writer.   There are certainly a number I would never have attempted had it not been for a specific prompt which encouraged me to think at a slant in terms of genre or style.  Flash is also great for experimenting with form to great effect – I’ve seen great examples of this from both Josh Bertetta and Karl A. Russell previously.

4) What flash advice would you give other writers?  Write many and often. Read many and often. Repeat.

5) Who is a writer we should follow, and why?  Too many FlashDogs to mention, so each and every member of the Pack. Talented writers, all and thoroughly lovely people – a number of whom I’ve been lucky enough to meet in person now on more than one occasion.  A special shout out to FDHQ too – both past and present – for all of their work to date and for producing a number of fabulous anthologies to highlight the work of the Pack.  They work incredibly hard and it is always appreciated.  The Poised Pen people – my writing group – are also a great and friendly bunch.  Some of the FlashDogs have met a number of them too now!  @zevonesque was actually the first person to introduce me to the concept of flash fiction, Flash! Friday as a community (and Twitter too!) and is a great advocate for flash as a form, as well as a thoroughly seasoned judge for a number of the well-known competitions.  None of my flash fiction would be here, save for all of their original encouragement, for providing a supportive community of writers and, sometimes, prompting me to read or share at meetings!

6) Do you participate in other flash contests, and which?  As many as possible, time allowing. Flash! Friday aside, currently mainly Angry HourglassLuminous Creatures (which I understand is coming back for another round in January-February). Previously, Three Line Thursday and Microbookends (not nearly as often as I would have liked), plus others now sadly missed (Mid-Week-Blues-Buster, Race the Date, Trifecta, anyone?).

7) What other forms do you write? Poetry on occasion and short stories.  I’ve also got the beginnings of what I think is likely to be a novelette sitting in a Word file on my computer for expansion.   I’d actually love to try writing a script or play at some point, subject to the right idea presenting itself to me!

8) What is/are your favorite genre(s) to write, and why? Dark, speculative fiction or mythologically based stories.  It’s great fun to write your own rules as you’re going along!

9) Tell us about a WIP. I’ve been working on contributions for pending FlashDogs and Poised Pen anthologies.  Flash and poetry – with a drabble to complete!  A couple of flash pieces are calling for expansion too.  Currently, however, an idea for a world made up of of nightmares and a child protagonist is whispering itself to me…

10) How do you feel about dragons? Their Mother has created an incredible community and nurtured numerous fledgling writers with her time, energy and generosity.  Thank you, Rebekah.  Now it’s for all of us to fan the flames, to continue to support one another and carry on sending our stories out into the world.


Catherine’s winning story:

Through Lettered Lands

There’s a world of words, they told me.
Mythic in size and proportion.
The magic admits those
who write a sentence on entering,
leaving chocolate drops behind
to mark their route through lettered lands.

Some territories are unknown, they told me.
You must map them yourself,
with other explorers.
They seek you out, supportive,
once you know where to find them.
They run together in packs.

Take care, little wanderer, they told me –
once hunted, few care to return from
the beauty of script scribbled in spaces,
blank, ‘til creation begins.

It expands on arrival, they told me,
so few know how large it’s become,
save for those who’ve travelled since beginning
their journey some long-score prompts passed.

It inhabits hearts and minds, they tell me –
take it wherever you go,
its end starting whole new beginnings,
cartographic creators’ creations,
living inside ever after, full grown.

Explorers seek it, perpetual.

All write on entering –
Here be dragons.

Flash! Friday Vol 2 – 50: WINNERS

Welcome to Flash! Friday results day! As ever, there’s LOTS of stuff going on; I’m so eager to share the goodness, I can hardly get the words out (don’t worry; I’ll manage). First up: a reminder of what’s happening these next couple weeks:

* Nov 28 – Special guest judges (announced later today or tomorrow; you’re going to go nuts)

* Dec 5Flashversary!!!!! (No. Words. for how HUGE the prize is.)

* Dec 12 – Year Three starts with its exciting changes and our brand new judge panel. Speaking of which, let me introduce them! Lots more about them in the weeks ahead. Join me in welcoming:

Pratibha Kelapure (@needanidplease) * Mark King (@Making_Fiction) * Eric Martell (@drmagoo

Jodi Murray (Joidianne4eva) * Sinéad O’Hart (@sjohart) * Carlos Orozco (@goldzco21

Image Ronin (@ImageRonin) * Tamara Shoemaker (@TamaraShoemaker)

Once you’ve stopped S C R E A M I N G, please move on with me to today’s results. We were marvelously privileged this round to be joined by the fine crew of the Liverpool-based writers’ group Poised Pen. Thanks specifically to Catherine Connolly & AJ Walker for sharing your time and keen writerly eyes! We love having you as part of our FF family, and it was a true honor to have you take a turn as judge. An honor for us and, I hope, not too torturous for you (though we did our best).    


The judges from Poised Pen say: Well, what a weekend, folks. It is the first time Poised Pen have been given the pleasure and privilege of judging at Flash! Fiction Friday. One of the Poised Pen team – I won’t name him – had to drink for two days at a real ale festival to ready himself for the challenge. It was most interesting being on the other side for the week. It was noted how important the title was to the pieces – we will definitely take this on board for our own stories, next week at least. We would like to think that it may improve our entries in the future – here’s hoping anyway!

As the two judges were both Flash Dogs the dragon master turned puppy master for the weekend, together with the striking photo cue references to Nipper and HMV. We’re not sure whether it was the relatively constrained indoor photograph, but it was noticeable that fantasy was a lot less in evidence this week than usual – though it may have been the difficulty of fitting music, puppies and dragons into 150 words. In common with most weeks though the Flash! community inevitably delivered a lot of death – and some intriguing wind-up tech!

The judging was blind of course and when we finally saw the author’s names it transpired we hadn’t delivered a clean sweep of Flash Dogs, but we did crown a new winner – giving us a warm glow. So, without further ado… to the winners, the runners up and the mentions…congratulations all!



Karl Russell, “Spiritual Remix.” The clue to this one’s premise is in the title.  This is a brilliant play structurally on the concept of the record played backwards and a mirror image story which produces a completely different version when set out in reverse.  Very cleverly done!

Sarah Miles, “Slugs and Snails and Puppy Dogs Tails.” Here, imagery and language are put to great use in the “thundering” and “howling”, followed by the “arias of mourning”.  There is a sense of the inevitable in the way in which Sayid ultimately joins the overwhelming “chorus”.  Powerful and well observed.

Mark King“Silver Song of the Lark.” There were nods aplenty to Liverpool – blatant but welcome. This story in particular made one of the judges (okay, Andy) laugh out loud. Loved seeing Hansen’s ‘you won’t win anything with kids’ comment. Thanks for making me laugh Mark – even if it did make me cry a little too at what we’ve lost.

Lastly, thanks to Rebekah the Puppy Master for trusting the Poised Pen team with the judging this week. It has been an absolute pressure. Or did we mean pleasure? Where’s me pint?



Sinéad O’Hart, “The Curtain Call.” This is a great example of a story utilising effective dialogue.  The interplay between the couple draws us effortlessly into a relationship in which communication is somewhat less than it should be.  We get a sense of an older, longstanding couple without any specific reference to age, as well as precisely what the husband’s viewpoint on “Oh, The Talent We’ve Got” may well be!

Betsy Streeter, “Hey, Jude.” Beatles reference in the title aside, this was a poignant example of a story incorporating music and death, something a number of the stories this week considered.  Here, the key is in the mark made “on the world”, which is likened to a “scratch” or “pop” on a record but only fully becomes clear at the conclusion of the final sentence, making it particularly poignant. ** Note ** This song was No.1 when one of the judges was born – coincidence or some scary amount of research (aka cyber stalking?)?

Tinman, “The Food of Love.” We really enjoyed the original premise of this story, with The Frydermaus and its pervasive aromas, likened to both the “Bach Fugue through organ pipes” and a “fart through a bubble bath”!  The wry, tongue-in-cheek tongue continues through Caruso’s signature dish, “O Sole Mio”, to the final inability to wind the oven sufficiently to “cook a whole turkey”.  Really well observed!

Matt Lashley, “Comeuppance.” This is another great example of a story in which the importance of its title becomes clear once we have come to its conclusion.  The hint that we will be privy to a tale of in which justice will be served becomes apparent only as the maid is hurrying away millions of bearer bonds richer from the “strong”, “weak” and “self-absorbed” family members.  With very few words, we gain the impression the “scolded puppy” maid is in the right!  


Craig Anderson, “Bark Box.” This is a brilliant piece in which voice is key.  The sheer magnitude of the task in trying to teach the proverbial pack is emphasised in the way attempts result in them “grinning like idiots” and their propensity to “spin in circles, hypnotized”.  The imagery tied to the “puppy” prompt is consistent throughout, from the inability to “walk on all fours” to the final determination to “discover who’s a good boy”.  Added to which, the humorous tone throughout is spot on – particularly in the closing line. Thanks for this, Craig.


David Borrowdale, “Harmony for the Mind.” Not only is this a great story, which demonstrates a clear sense of the world which we, as reader, inhabit and uses the word prompt for the week of “puppy” to original effect, it also sets its premise up particularly cleverly through its title – something which becomes clear fully once we have finished reading.  It is also a great example of an entry involving apparent research into epistemological theory and attention to detail in very few words.  Added to that, a closing line which hits home in the overall context of the story to finish off!  Very well done, David.


Tamara Shoemaker, “Thief.” Tamara’s story uses language to great effect.  We begin with the accusatory “thief”, with the concluding paragraph aiding to emphasise the original accusation by bringing us as reader full circle.  The sense of a need for justice is something which runs throughout linguistically, with references to “loathsome” and “bitter”, as well as “razor-edged” slaying, adding to the sense of hurt and betrayal.   Here, “life” helps to highlight the importance of what we are dealing with, making the accusation all the more serious.  Additional kudos to the author for effective use of the word “poised” in the very first paragraph too!

And now: for his very first time, we couldn’t be happier for Flash! Friday 




“The Abyss”

This story sets its premise out from the title in.  Right from the outset, the reader descends into the abyss the characters dwell within whilst they drink memories away.  Original premise aside, the writer’s use of language is accomplished.  Pockets “bulging” with coins bathed in anguish cause the protagonist to “crawl” to the bar, emphasising the sense of psychological weight from the first paragraph.  The sense of despair and hopelessness continues via the “bones” displaying their “masks” only, devoid of real humanity, as we see what the bar occupants have been reduced to.  Seemingly, the distilled memories they imbibe will not be the only things incapable of a return.  Here, “echo” refers cleverly not only to the distilled products being served but the inference in respect of the drinkers themselves.  There is a sense of struggle in the attempt to “stay afloat”, however hopeless it may ultimately prove.  Finally, we reach the haunting conclusion and its “shadows”, with the reference to consumption highlighting the extent to which those who drink at the Abyss are eaten away, slowly but surely, by their singular desire.  Beautifully done, Chris!

Congratulations, Chris! Below is your frothy winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is your very own, brand new, super duper marvelous winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here asap so I can interview you for Wednesday’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!

The Abyss

The jukebox desires coins bathed in anguish. My pocket is bulging with those. I feed the nostalgic gal then crawl to the bar.

Intoxicated bones with masks of sorrow lounge on decaying stools, a whimpering pack of discarded puppies pining for their master. Glasses are being fractured by aching hands. Marinated eyes plunge for deserted images floating in amber liquid. We drink memories at The Abyss. We splash our guts with the distilled echo of things that don’t come back.

Words are extinct here. Our mouths are preoccupied with swallowing fraudulent remedies. Our ears tuned solely to the paralyzing songs that tell our story with a folksy twang.

A kid in a pink Oxford is peeling the label off his beer with wounded talons. His first heartbreak, perhaps. I buy his next round. He nods. I want to tell him to stay afloat, but my coins have bartered a deal: A melody that tilts the bottle. Lyrics that consume shadows.


Flash! Friday–Vol 2 – 50

WELCOME to Flash! Friday! Normally I behave myself beautifully (stop laughing. This is not an open mic) and wait to introduce the judge after the diamonds, but today I can’t stand it. I’m just going to have to tell you STRAIGHT UP that we have Poised Pen judging today! 

Gotta say I’m partial to writers’ groups. My own beloved Shenandoah Valley Writers (which consists of rock stars you know like Tamara Shoemaker, Margaret Locke, Taryn Noelle Kloeden, M.T. Decker, Allison Garcia, Maggie Duncan, and my dear friend and SVW co-founder, publisher/editor Susan Warren Utley… I KNOW, RIGHT?!?! Chills!) has woven itself into my heart. These people have sat at my table eating muffins. They’ve sung karaoke at my birthday party (here’s looking at YOU, Maggie Duncan) and written me dragon stories. And every day they push me to write better.

Approaching Poised Pen only made the best kind of sense.

The Poised Pen writer’s group is based in Liverpool; they meet, and meet often, and I understand there may be copious amounts of ale involved. Please join me in welcoming them (represented today by Catherine Connolly and AJ Walker), and read more about them here.

Couple quick announcements: next week is week 51 of Year Two; you are going to love meeting next week’s guest judges. And then on December 5 is Flashversary (hang on to your hats!). December 12 will, if you can believe it, usher in the first week of YEAR THREE with our brand new judge panel. After that, I think we’ll have to schedule a very nice, comfy naptime.

As for today’s prompt: DID YOU KNOW that on November 21, 1877 Edison proclaimed to the world his invention of the phonograph? And it’s hard to think of the phonograph without thinking of the ethereal tones of Caruso (who took two baths a day, scrapbooked, and always carried good luck charms; but I digress). For him the mic is always open.     


Awards Ceremony: Results will post Monday. Noteworthy #SixtySeconds interviews with the previous week’s winner post Wednesdays.  I (Rebekah) post my own unbalanced writings sometimes on Tuesdays or Thursdays.   

Now, shelve that record and write us a story! 

* Word count150 word story (10-word leeway on either side) based on the photo prompt.

HowPost your story here in the comments. Include your word count (140 – 160 words, excluding title) and Twitter handle if you’ve got one. If you’re new, don’t forget to check the contest guidelines.

Deadline11:59pm ET tonight (check the world clock if you need to; Flash! Friday is on Washington, DC time)

Winners: will post Monday

Prize: The Flash! Friday e-dragon e-badge for your blog/wall, your own winner’s page here at FF, a 60-second interview next Wednesday, and your name flame-written on the Dragon Wall of Fame for posterity. 

***Today’s Dragon’s Bidding (required element to incorporate somewhere in your story; does not need to be the exact word(s) unless specifically instructed to do so, e.g. “include a mischievous group of writers named ‘Flash Dogs'”):


***Today’s Prompt:


Caruso with phonograph, early 1900s. Bain photo owned by LOC; no known restrictions.

Caruso with phonograph, early 1900s. Baen photo owned by LOC; no known restrictions.