Flash fiction is like a good dram

Cross-posted from the SA Writers’ Centre blog. I wrote this post ahead of my flash fiction workshop at the SA Writers’ Centre in Adelaide (this weekend: 22 June, book here). I also have workshops coming up at Writers Victoria (see also my interview), the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre, and at Byron Bay Writers’ Fest!

Glencairn_Whisky_Glass

On my desktop is a whisky wheel, a device that’s supposed to help you with your tasting notes when sampling single malts. Does your drink have a touch of black pepper on the nose? Or is it orange blossom? Is it lactic or nutty on the palate? Is the finish more toward the end of mint or tobacco? And how long does it linger on the tongue?

Those who know me have probably realised I’d eventually get around to using whisky as a metaphor for writing. Flash fictions—stories under 1000 words—are like a good dram. You savour them, roll them around in your mouth, are left with resonant remnants.

Here’s a little guide to tasting flash fiction:

The nose

The tone, voice or mood is set in the first few lines. Or if it’s a really short one, in the first few words. Some flavours the opening might go for: intriguing, dark, buoyant, amusing, suspicious, arresting. Or, indeed, honey, smoke or cloves.

The palate

We’re into the story now. There’s a character or characters. Something happens, has happened or is about to happen. The flavours (if it’s a good dram of story) are working together to create a cohesive effect. Something could be coming through very strong, like smoke or desire. The flavours are setting off little pings of association in your brain: your childhood, your fears, his garden, her lipstick.

The finish

All good things come to an end. But there’s a lingering in a good, complex dram or story. Did it slide down smoothly? Or is there a hint of bitterness left at the back of the tongue? Are you experiencing a jolt of sweet sherbet? There might be a warming in your chest, a sudden clarity, or a fading melancholy.

How powerful some flavours are: fresh cut grass, wet dog, roses, butterscotch. The flavours themselves, and the associations they uncover, can remain in the memory long afterwards.

With flash fiction, you have so few words to work with – 30ml worth, perhaps. There are many different types of flash stories, though a series of them from one author might take on a certain flavour profile (like single malts from a single region). Reading a range of stories from different authors will help to build your palate, help you to find out what you yourself can do.

Join me in the bar and let’s enjoy a dram or two.

Interviews in The West Australian and Tincture

Picture by William Yeoman for the West Australian.

Picture by William Yeoman for the West Australian.

In the West Australian:

‘I thought of (Captives) as a pillbox of stories,’ Meyer says. ‘There are different coloured pills – a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one—and they produce different effects and maybe you can’t take too many at once. And they’re a little dark and a little strange. But I think they have to be that way to get across those ideas of fear and that we’re captives within our own minds. We can’t escape ourselves. I hope Captives taps into peoples’ fears—but in a good way.’

Read the rest.

And interviewed by Daniel Young for Tincture Journal (where some of my stories have been previously published):

‘[The themes are] definitely something that emerged organically, although I’ve been aware for a while that my best writing tends to emerge from the place where my anxieties lie (which is not far removed from my passions). There’s a knife’s edge between happiness and melancholy, to paraphrase Virginia Woolf, and my writing is attuned to that. The knife’s edge also separates what is considered ‘normal’ from what is not. That’s something that fascinates me and is another theme that runs through the book.’

Read the rest.

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LiteraryMinded is seven; Captives is born; writing-work balance

CaptivesFCR (1)I missed my blog’s birthday. For the first time. You can imagine why. Something else I’ve written has just been released, my tiny book of short fictions, Captives. 

Actually, there’s more to it than that. I haven’t felt like I’ve had a proper chance to let publication wash over me, that now when I say to someone ‘I’m a writer’, and they ask, ‘what’s your book?’ I have an answer.

It’s just that I’m back in extraordinarily-busy-saying-yes mode… That’s why I truly missed my blog’s birthday. I’m working on two contracts (one editing, one writing), have started an awesome new casual job at Nant whisky bar, have two reviews, one essay and one academic paper due, am judging two writing competitions, preparing to report on a conference, preparing an interview, preparing for a HUGE amount of festivals, events and workshops, and trying to keep on top of social media etc. around my book’s release (and continuing to promote The Great Unknown). I’m a little stressed, admittedly, but I’m also grateful. When I got back from overseas it was so difficult, at first, to find work. I’d much rather have too much work, than too little. And everything feels (almost) balanced: a little reading, some writing, a bunch of emails, some editing, and then whisky.

Except for one thing: not enough creative writing going on. I’m managing about once a week at the moment. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Do many people manage to write a lot when they’re in the throes of promoting the current book? And how do other authors manage balance between book promotion (and career building) and making enough of a living? This is a question that’s been fascinating me, last year (when I finished my doctorate) and this year: what is the ideal job for a writer? Is my bar job ideal, because it’s casual and flexible, and still stimulating (I love the smells in the bar, and hearing people’s different stories about how they came to like single malts—it often involves travel). Or is freelance editing ideal? I just love putting that logical part of my brain to work: problem solving; knitting text, spaces and punctuation into something neat. I get to put the control freak to work, purge her a little. Editing feels powerful, I think. But it does use up a lot of brain power, not exactly from the same area as the writing (at least the drafting) comes from, but close by. Enough to drain you of words for the evening. I don’t think I’d want to edit full time.

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I don’t think I want to do any one job full time.

Can I manage this ‘juggling’, then? And still write, and still pay the bills? I’m going to try.

A grant would be helpful, of course! Or an advance. I am so enjoying writing this novel and it would be great, after some of these contracts ended, to have more time in the week to immerse myself in remote 19th century Scotland.

But hang on, let me take a moment here. I have a book out! (Always thinking of the next thing.) And it’s even receiving some lovely reviews and attention. The other day I received an email from an author whose book I very much admired, telling me she admired my book! It made my day. I couldn’t quite believe that she’d written to me as a peer (I know, but I’ve admitted to my inadequacy complex on here many times over these past seven years).

I’ve linked in the past few weeks to some of the guest posts/interviews I’ve been doing around the book’s release, but recently Captives has also been reviewed in Readings Monthly by Brigid Mullane, and Bronte Coates interviewed me for the Readings blog. Author Annabel Smith also interviewed me (on the writing process) on her blog.

And The Great Unknown is kicking on! It received a review in the Australian last weekend, by Kirsten Krauth, alongside the latest Sleepers Almanac. I still have to put up the last of my author posts from TGU on here. Will do soon…

Please also check out my events page while you’re here!

And while I’m rambling on, I must say that I’m reading some incredible books for upcoming festivals: Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest is bowling me over, and Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals is lingering long in my mind. I put a small note on that one on Goodreads.

But I also feel I’ll never catch up on all the books I want to read: Alex Miller’s Coal Creek, Chris Womersley’s Cairo, Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book (not to mention Carpentaria), Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda, Emily Bitto’s The Strays, Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil, Clare Wright’s The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, and now Paddy O’Reilly’s new novel, The Wonders, has just landed on my desk. And I have an advance proof of Jessie Cole’s Deeper Water… (!)

All the books.

OK, I best get on with my work for the day. Thanks for coming by, it’s been swell.

Flash fictions: key words and after-images, on Booktopia

franz-kafka

On the Booktopia blog today, I discuss flash fiction and short fiction; my own and others’ stories, intentions and possibilities. Here’s an extract:

In a short story, every word must count. What is left out is as important as what is left in. The writer must create and maintain a particular tone, or mood, and create a piece that feels whole (not a fragment) but that may evoke much outside its confines. With my own very short stories (also called flash fictions or microfictions), I want the characters, images, themes to live long in the reader’s mind. I want them to have some impact.

You might compare a very short story to a complex painting – a narrative-based painting – where the symbols nestled in the setting and upon the figures work together to not only suggest a particular story but hopefully move you to feel something, something you may not even fully, consciously comprehend.

I hope you enjoy reading the rest.

Signing a contract for an unfinished manuscript, on Writers Bloc

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Click here to read my piece on Writers Bloc about signing the contract for Captives before it was finished, and the ensuing writing process (while travelling). Here’s an extract:

I wrote a few of the stories around sessions at the Edinburgh International Book Fest, including a couple which are postmodern or referential. This reflects the fact that, like the narrator of Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman who knows Lolita’s mother better than she knows her own, I don’t like to separate out my ‘real world’ and ‘cultural’ experiences too much, because I’ve spent so much of my life immersed in fictional spaces. Not only in books, but in places like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, or the post-apocalyptic glam world of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs.

CaptivesFCR (1)Captives is available for pre-order from my publisher, Inkerman & Blunt, until 30 April (free postage). And the book will soon be available (or at least available to order) at all good bookstores. The official release is only days away! The ebook will also soon be available…

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Captives available for pre-order!

CaptivesFCR (1)In her first book of fiction, writer and literary journalist Angela Meyer demonstrates her gift for painting vivid pictures with a few adroit, restrained brush strokes.
—Jennifer Peterson-Ward, Books+Publishing 

You guys…

My first fiction book is being published in May: Captives. It’s a petite, dark collection of flash fiction, with a cover and layout beautifully designed by Sandy Cull. Here’s the blurb:

Captives opens with a husband pointing his gun at his wife. There’s a woman who hears ‘the hiss of Beelzebub behind people’s voices’, a photographer who captures the desire to suicide, a man locked in a toilet who may never get out, a couple who grow young, and a prisoner who learns to swallow like a python.

Angela Meyer’s Captives is a collection of shimmering story wafers, each of which hovers at exactly the sweet spot of just enough. Individually piercing, Meyer’s fiction slices fit together like the best poetry does, amplifying what came before and chiming with what comes after. —Tania Hershman.

I’m so excited that some of my fiction has found its way out into the world, thanks to Inkerman & Blunt. You can follow the publisher on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Captives is now available for pre-order! If you order from Inkerman & Blunt directly before April 30, you’ll receive a signed copy (only $14.99)! You can also order it from your favourite local or online bookstore (the ISBN is 9780987540126).

I’ll be doing plenty of events around the release of Captives, which I’ll announce mainly via Facebook and Twitter. I’ve also started a dedicated events page here on the blog.

Thanks, as always, for reading. (Can you believe this blog will be seven years old the month Captives comes out?) 

Enter the joanne burns award: Flashing the Square

flashing_the_square_logoThis year, along with Richard Holt, I’ll be judging the joanne burns award for microfiction and prose poems, tied in with the Flashing the Square project during Melbourne Writers’ Festival in August.

First prize for a microfiction or prose poem is $300. The winning and shortlisted entries will be published in the Spineless Wonders annual anthology along with work by invited writers. A small number of these works will go on to be produced as videos to be screened at Federation Square during the Melbourne Writers Festival (August 21-31).

What are we looking for?

We want screen-sized literature that will stop the festival-goers and Fed Square passers-by in their tracks. How you do it is up to you. Play with story, play with language. Give us writing that has the conciseness of poetry. Give us the breezy vernacular of the prose poem. Lace your microfiction with metafiction. Let your prose pull its punchlines. Give us language that is fresh and brimful of suggestion and nuance.

The maximum length is 200 words, and for $7 you can enter as many as you like.

Closing date is 31 March 2014.

The full submission guidelines and submission portal can be found on the Spineless Wonders website. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out The Great Unknown!

Find out more about Flashing the Square 2013 here.

My own book of flash and microfiction, Captives, will be out with Inkerman & Blunt in May. Why not add it to your shelves on Goodreads?

I’m teaching workshops on flash fiction at Perth Writers’ Festival this month, and at Writers Victoria in July (with more to be announced), if you’d like to come along.

Perth Writers Festival 2014

imageI’m excited to be invited back to one of my favourite festivals, Perth Writers Festival, which runs from 20-23 Feb. I’m appearing in one event, chairing two others, and teaching a workshop on flash fiction. Hope to see some of you there?

More details on my sessions:

drabbleSat 22 Feb

10 am

Grand Allusions (free, Romeo tent)

When the fictional heroes and heroines of novels are writers themselves, centuries of literary allusion and reference can creep into a text. How important is literary allusion in the novel and what is its purpose? Rabih Alameddine and Margaret Drabble speak with Angela Meyer.

(I’m so excited about this one, wonderful writers and a nerdy, literary topic. Yes!)

5122_14834_Toby-Xavier-headshot4 pm

Hi-Vis Daze (free, Romeo tent)

In order to make ends meet, comedian Xavier Toby needed a real job. So he began a second life as a FIFO worker in a remote Queensland mine, writing down his hilarious experiences along the way. He dishes the dirt to Angela Meyer.

(I just gave this book a wee review on Goodreads.)

Sun 23 Feb

1 pm

Small and Perfectly Formed (free, Woolnough Lecture Theatre)

Julienne van LoonRon Elliott and Angela Meyer have turned to the novella, short story and flash fiction for their new books. They discuss the attraction of short fiction and its place in publishing today with Annabel Smith.

(I get to talk about my own fiction, as well as the stories in The Great Unknown, awesome.)

2 pm (I’ll have to run to this!)

Workshop: Flash Fiction ($53 to $67.50, Alexander Lecture Theatre)

Very short stories have been around a long time: even Kafka, Woolf and Hemingway wrote them. Angela Meyer introduces you to the form. Embrace brevity and experiment with notions of character, conflict and resolution, and evocation of place and mood, in few words.

I’m looking forward to catching some events as well: Lionel Shriver, Richard Flanagan, Eleanor Catton, Antony Loewenstein, Martin Amis… as many as I can manage. Off to do some reading…

Review of Janet Frame’s In the Memorial Room for The Australian

in the memorial room janet frameJanet Frame is one of my all-time favourite authors. Her writing is surprising, absurd, knowing, funny, sad, dark, moving, imaginative and honest. She was an incredibly hard-working writer, often having to work in uncomfortable or strange conditions (while overcoming much personal tragedy). I’ve read quite a few of her novels; plus her short fiction, her poems, and her memoirs, and when I heard about the novel to be posthumously published, In the Memorial Room, I had to have it.

I was also glad to review it for The AustralianIt felt like a weighty task, in some ways, to review the posthumous novel of (arguably) New Zealand’s most famous author, for a national newspaper. But it also wasn’t difficult because as soon as I began reading the novel, it was like sitting down very comfortably with an old friend; a very smart, witty, entertaining old friend. And I felt confident that I was a good listener for her.

It’s different than many recent posthumous novels, too, as it was intended for publication after her death. It’s not one of those cases where the executor has failed to burn the manuscript, resulting in questions around literary ethics. This book is, instead, quite perfectly posthumous…

The review begins:

In the Memorial Room is not just a brilliant novel but a considered and poignant posthumous literary act, a curtain call by one of the world’s greatest authors, New Zealander Janet Frame, who died in 2004.

It’s the story of a young author of historical fiction, Harry Gill, who receives the Watercress-Armstrong Fellowship, allowing him to work in Menton, France. Harry has taken the fellowship despite the fact his sight seems to be failing.

Please click through and read the rest here.

Amsterdam

My travel story/memoir ‘Amsterdam’ won the Australian Festival of Travel Writing 500 word short story comp and was published in the April issue of The Victorian WriterWriters Vic have kindly allowed me to reproduce the story here. I hope you enjoy it.

amsterdam moetAmsterdam

My last week in Europe. All the dorms at the hostel are full, so I’ve been placed at the top of a tight, winding staircase in a tiny attic room sliced in half by the roof.

I sit at the bar alone, trying to own the romance of loneliness. For the rest of the month I’d thrived on being alone, even trying for days to shake off Brisbane-boy who followed me from Venice to Vienna.

Maybe it’s because I’m so close to going home.

I look around the bar, my stomach twisting, annoyed at my own desperation (‘but you love being alone’, I remind myself) until an olive-skinned young man comes over to talk to me. His name is Fadil and he’s from Cairo. He produces a cartoonishly large, cigar-shaped joint from his pocket and asks me if I’d like to join him. We go up to the back of the bar, and smoke and talk. He answers his phone a few times, displaying his popularity, then invites me to hang out with him for the night. I’m relieved and grateful.

We enter a pool hall above a café, filled with smoke and Arab men. Fadil doesn’t play but needs to check in with about eight different people. I stand back shyly but not too awkwardly, relaxed by the drug.

Next we walk down an alleyway and Fadil presses a buzzer on a metal door. Someone draws back a flap, like in the Wizard of Oz when they reach the Emerald City. A fat man in sequins lets us in and leads us ‘darlings’ to the upper level (past rooms cordoned off with cherry-red velvet drapes). The nightclub has one long, elevated lounge around its sides and café tables and chairs on the dancefloor. The music is slow trance and there are arty white-light projections on the walls. The people around the edges have bare feet and bottles of Moet in buckets. I think one of them is Ralph Fiennes. We sit at a table and chair, exposed, and I order a glass of Moet from a menu, because I never have.

The next day Fadil and I eat among Kama Sutra tapestries in an Indian restaurant. He pokes at his phone during dinner, frowning and complaining about having too many friends. It is as though he’s complaining about having to be with me. I have not risen to the top, the cream of his many acquaintances. I have not passed some invisible test. I feel underappreciated and disappointed, so I fight the terror of loneliness and leave him to the rest of them.

That night there are such storms over Europe: rib-cracking thunder and the sky swirling, like Van Gogh’s starry night without the light. The anxiety of the possibility of flight cancellations compounds my melancholy and I drink, alone in my hovel, until I feel sick.

On the last day of my trip I take 80 self-portraits with wax figures at Madame Tussaud’s.

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