Calum Kerr is a writer, Director of National Flash-Fiction Day, Managing Editor of Gumbo Press, a freelance editor and academic. He is most well known for his work in writing and promoting Flash Fiction.
Hi Calum, it’s great to talk to you today.
Calum you are a prolific writer of Flash Fiction, a relatively new form, could you define Flash for anyone not familiar with it?
There are a range of definitions – mostly to do with length, which tends to be under 1000 or 500 words depending on who you speak to. One thing is for sure, they are very short stories. In some cases the definition – and the length – comes from the stories being written ‘in a flash’ (rather than defining it by the reader’s experience) and very often they are stories written from a prompt, and written in a single sitting.
One thing which is crucial about flash-fiction, however, is that the words should do a lot more work than just what is on the page – implying and conveying a much larger story of which the flash is just a part.
Why are you drawn to writing Flash Fiction?
I like the speed of it. I like that you can chop and change – writing science-fiction in the morning and romance in the afternoon, having sneaked in a horror story over lunch. And I enjoy the technical challenge of telling a whole story in such a small space.
Your new Flash Fiction collection is called Time, why did you choose that subject?
I am doing a range of collections this year, and one of my big loves is science-fiction. One of the themes that always intrigued me is time-travel, so I thought I would tackle a whole collection of stories about that, and see where it took me. It wasn’t quite what I might have expected, with the science-fiction taking a back seat to character, but that is very often what happens with my writing. I find it hard to stay within a single genre, and much prefer to mash them up.
How would you describe your approach to writing?
Periods of intense productivity, interspersed with fallow periods of procrastination – much the same as most writers, I think. I try not to plan too much. If I know the story ahead of time, I get bored. That’s probably another reason why flash appeals to me.
How long has this collection taken to write?
I’m writing one a month, so it took, probably, about 3 weeks, writing one or two stories a day.
Have you a favourite story from the collection? Why?
I’m fond of all of them, of course, but if I had to pick one it would be ‘Courting Disaster’ in which a man in a pub is trying to work out how to ask out a good-looking woman. Various versions of him from possible futures keep walking in to give him advice. It combines time travel with a romantic comedy. It’s sweet and funny and clever. I like that it can do all of those, and all in about 500 words.
Flash is getting a lot of publicity recently. As a writer do you get a sense that Flash is more popular now or is it the same as always?
Well, as you said, it’s still a relatively new form, so it’s finding its feet. But I think the word is starting to spread and – as it’s quite an easy form for newcomers to tackle – it’s gaining in popularity. I like to think that my work writing and publishing the form, and running National Flash-Fiction Day, have also helped.
Have you a favourite character from the collection?
I think, probably, Joe. If the collection has anything approaching a villain, then it’s him. And villains are always more fun to write.
It was one of those Sunday afternoon, ‘You know what I should do?’ kind of ideas. Initially it was to set up an online journal for all forms of writing – this was before I got quite so involved in flash-fiction – and that ran for a year. After that the press went quiet for a while, published a couple of small flash pamphlets. And then, this year, I decided to turn it into a dedicated flash-fiction press, searching for full collections, and seeing what could be done using e-books and print-on-demand. With luck we will branch out into short story collections and novels. But I’m running it with essentially no budget, so it’s slow going.
Being an editor is hard work, but also very rewarding. You get to read some wonderful work, and then you get to email people and say ‘Yes!’ which is just the best part of my job. Admittedly, you sometimes have to read a lot before you get to the best stuff, but that’s what the job’s all about. And I like to think, dedicated it to flash-fiction, that we are giving a chance to people who wouldn’t be able to get published elsewhere.
What’s next for Calum Kerr? Are you working on a new project?
Well, as I mentioned before, I am writing a book a month – or at least trying to (I’m a little behind). So those are ongoing until the end of the year. I’m also working on some non-fiction titles and rewrites on a novel that I hope to start sending out in the autumn. That, along with everything else, is more than enough!
What advice would you give to new writers trying to write great Flash Fiction?
Read as much flash-fiction as you can, and try to see what works and why. Then write, write, write. Practise really does make perfect. Oh, and you could always buy my ‘How to Write Flash-Fiction’ book: The World in a Flash. I mean, couldn’t hurt, could it?
It couldn’t hurt at all Calum. Cheers, it’s been great to talk to you about Flash Fiction, thanks for your time and good luck.