42 is a monthly event which focuses on the Gothic, Horror, Sci fi, and Fantasy genres in prose and poetry at one of the oldest, and most atmospheric , pubs in Worcester, The Swan With Two Nicks. This month was given over to the emerging Flash Fiction form which the Worcester Literary festival has done much to help promote. The objective being to perform over forty two flash fiction pieces at the eponymous event, a neat idea, and one which attracted a sizeable, and eminent audience.
So what is flash fiction? A short story with a limited word count. Tonight, the limit was three hundred words per story, a limit which is becoming format defining for competition and performance. They can be shorter. Although in principle they could also be longer, clearly all submissions for any event or competition need to be written to a uniform limit to give the exercise credibility and value.
My personal preferred writing milieu is poetry, but I entered and performed one piece for the evening myself in order that I could understand the mechanics of what I was to review. What most impressed me was how every word had to count, work, and earn its place in the story. The word count is sufficiently long to tell a story in, but the skills normally applied to an extended narrative are amplified, tested and stretched.
As I watched others perform I identified three types of story. The first was a simple observation, more than a story, which was stretched out to meet the word count. The second was a bigger story that was condensed and cropped. The third was a story crafted to match the form. On the night, there was no restriction on themes, which were diverse in the extreme, in turns funny, sad, thoughtful and whimsical.
Three performers spearheaded the evening artistically, the most distinguished of whom was Calum Kerr, director , and instigator of, National Flash- Fiction day and managing editor of Gumbo Press. Also a lecturer in Creative Writing at Winchester University, Calum read extensively from Braking Distance , a collection of linked flash-fictions written in November 2011 as part of flash365. All the stories, set in a motorway service station, provide different perspectives of the same event. Clever, concise and inspired, he set a formidable standard.
Local luminary Lyndsay Stanberry-Flynn runs hugely popular creative writing workshops, having previously worked full time teaching English, and is an award winning author and queen of local flash-fictionistas. A driving force and judge behind last year’s inaugural Worcester Literary Festival Flash –Fiction competition, she was on hand to strut her own meticulously crafted flash fiction whilst encouraging and cajoling others. On Sunday 9th December, at 4pm, the Flash Fiction anthology from writers in the first WLF Flash Fiction competition will be launched, with readings, at this venue.
Reigning WLF Flash Fiction Champion, and Warwick Words Flash fiction champion , Amy Rainbow was on hand to demonstrate her champion credentials and did so in customary style with two pieces, the malevolent and taut Childs Play and The Prison.
It was fascinating watching the other forty seven pieces unfold ( the odd one being mine!) and a number of common denominators emerged. Prose, read from a static position needs to be performed. Math Jones exemplified this with his animated and modulated rendition of Sign Up. A strong opening line is vital to grab the audience’s attention, Rod Griffiths did exactly this with his two playful pieces about the problems that Zombies have aided by an ingenious i-phone/i-pad combination which enabled a teleprompt facility- technology which worked! A story which grips the imagination so that the audience buys into the proposition is invaluable. Alan Durham did just that with Figurehead, the tale of rough justice for a thief at a shipyard based upon Alan’s own working experience. That idea can be comic, as Tony Judge demonstrated with the Sociopath Olympics, amongst the funniest pieces of the night. The quick-fire conveyor belt of performer and performance means that readers have to pedal very hard to create an identity for themselves, and their story ,as quickly as possible. Catherine Crosswell delivered that in performing The Crime Scene, her witty, and fey, introduction the perfect appetiser for the main course. Words fifty four and fifty six lived up to their advanced billing!
Andrew Owens hosted the evening with charm, and a light touch, shepherding the burgeoning performance roster with a wet nose and an occasional nip at the heels. Congratulations are also due to Geoff Robinson whose original idea it was and who did much to realise the evening’s success. “42” returns to the same venue on Wednesday January 30th, 2013, 7.30pm.
Photography by Geoff Robinson