Another fabulous weekend with experts on writing (very) short fiction. Flash Fiction is anything up to 1,000 words, although I've noticed that the upper limit seems to be getting lower. 500 words seems to be common for submissions, or 300. Much shorter stories are called micro-fictions and can be 100 words or less.
I don't claim to be an expert in flash - my comfort zone (and preferred reading) is novel-length, although I have written two novellas-in-flash (but see what I'm doing there? A much longer story in very short chapters!). I went to the very first Flash Fiction Festival a few years ago because I really didn't know what flash fiction was and was keen to find out. Not only is it various incredibly inventive types of short-short fiction, I have to add that learning about it has taught me an enormous amount about writing in general - flash is an exacting discipline that forces a writer to think very carefully about every choice.
I also had the privilege of leading a workshop (with extremely engaged authors - first thing on Saturday morning!) on Climate Writing. My topic this year was on different ways of approaching the climate crisis in fiction, where hope, generosity and ingenuity are deployed in unexpected ways. We had a lively discussion and they went away with new ideas to explore. So my workshop was more on content than craft - there are some wonderful teachers of craft at the Festival.
Next year there will be another in-person event, but keep an eye on the FFF website for zoom days scattered throughout the year. The Festivals are also enormous fun, with gentle competitions, readings, a book stall, freebies, new friends, good food and even karaoke...
"Word Cricket" - stories written at speed from random prompts thrown out every minute or so. Photo credit: @FlashFicFest 2023
I travelled on the train, and arrived at St John's Waterloo, a church on the south side of the Thames (Parliament is on the north side) just after 10am, where hundreds of people had already arrived.
This was the beginning of a Christian day of action and pilgrimage. We had an inspiring panel discussion with Christian peers from the Climate Committee in the House of Lords, and representatives from a Christian NGO, and from Christian Climate Action. The discussion was interrupted by a well-known climate denier, but we drowned him out by singing Amazing Grace, and he was escorted from the building.
One conclusion from the discussion was - don't think your actions, emails, and letters go unnoticed. Contact your MP and others.
Then followed a service in the church, led by people from all walks of life - children, people from tropical countries, the international charity Tearfund, the Salvation Army, and the former Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.
We walked in pilgrimage - at least 1,400 of us, with several bishops and dozens of Christian clergy - to Parliament Square, via the Shell building, where Archbishop John tried to hand-deliver a letter from all the Christian organisations at the service, which simply asked for a meeting.
Shell called the police.
What fear, it strikes me now.
I must confess, I am no fan of crowds, but I knew many people there that day, and it was a peaceful witness to the difficulties the world is facing, and which, unless we act together, we may not overcome. Walking and working in solidarity with others, listening - really listening - to the stories coming from other countries - acting intentionally and deliberately out of love and compassion - praying, reading and writing - these are ways in which we and the world may be changed.
Today Shell has announced record profits.
The launch party was held in Bath, appropriately enough, with readings from both books (19 authors took part), as well as wine, nibbles and cake. It was a really fun evening, and it was great to hear some amazing pieces of writing. I read my funny flash "Inspirational Talks Number 36 - Degrees of Separation (It's not what you know, it's who you know)." And people laughed, to my immense relief.
I'm now very much looking forward to one of the writing highlights of my year - the Flash Fiction Festival 2023, in Bristol.
It's about half an hour - maybe that's obvious?!
You can read it here: me and the foxes battle it out along the railway line.
I'm beginning to think about the Climate Writing workshop I'll be running at the Flash Fiction Festival in July in Bristol. Two topics spring to mind, both interesting and unusual.
I'm very much looking forward to the Festival, meeting wonderful writers, hearing new work, and being inspired by workshops and presenters. It's an absolute highlight of my year - and this year I won't be trying to get back from Cornwall in time for the start...
It's a fabulous weekend and I thoroughly recommend it!
I've been going through a dry patch in writing. Before Christmas I had all sorts of plans about January -- a new year, getting back into the new novel, maybe being a little more organised, perhaps even a new routine.
But life has had other plans, and perhaps my unconscious has had other plans too. We had two separate bouts of Covid in our household, beginning on 29 December for 10 days or so, then a 2 week gap, beginning again on about 23 January until yesterday. Thankfully I escaped this time, although I don't take my escape for granted as I have had this unpleasant illness twice already, despite all my jabs and keeping as safe as I can, with masking on public transport and in crowded places. I have also had to write a good deal for other purposes, which takes energy and time.
My unconscious -- that's another matter. It laughs at my plans. It becomes shy and unavailable when I think I might want to write. It becomes critical, telling me that really I should be doing other things, that I can't write anyway, and who am I to think that anyone would want to read my writing? -- things I half feel may be half true. It's discouraging!
I rely on my unconscious mind to come up with ideas and people and plots. I don't know if it's the same for other writers. When I write, an amazing magic begins to shape my work, and it's mostly not planned. Sometimes it doesn't work too well, but other times it has a profound effect. I have an idea of where I want my book or story to go, a kind of loose framework, and then I just write and see what happens.
But -- it's been January, and dark, and cold and wet, and quite frankly I have just wanted to hide away. I've also been pretty busy with other things, and that shy and temperamental unconscious mind needs a bit of space, a bit of latitude, a bit of feeding with art and music and books and poetry, a bit of sunshine, a lessening of stress.
So -- February is here, at last! The days are drawing out, the shortest day nearly six weeks behind us, the longest day a mere 20 weeks ahead! And the days will be long and light many weeks before then.
I'm learning not to fret about the daily words on a page, but to allow a bit of space for creativity of all kinds, wherever it comes from. Today I cleared out the under sink cupboard. Creative? Maybe. It certainly feels helpful. There's something about physical clutter that clutters the mind too.
Cameron creates a world teeming with life, as ours was not so very long ago. It got me thinking about the millions-strong buffalo herds in North America, hunted almost to extinction by settlers from Europe, and the Newfoundland cod fisheries, which have never recovered since they were depleted by the early twentieth century. It was said at the time that a man could almost walk on the sea, such was the multitude of cod. Then there is the passenger pigeon, now extinct, when in the nineteenth century the sky would be dark from horizon to horizon as they migrated.
These are all examples of anthropogenic extinction, extinction caused by human activity.
And there are countless more. Since 1970 the world has lost about 70% of its wild animals. The UK is right at the bottom of international league tables in terms of our biodiversity - the variety and numbers of wildlife.
What an indictment of our status as the most influential species on the planet. Some will say it's because of the vast growth in human population over the last century. I was born when the global population was roughly 3.1 billion. On November 15 2022 it reached 8 billion. But population is only part of the story. As the old saying has it: "The world has enough for everyone's need, not for everyone's greed". That is certainly true of food, and clothing, and household goods, energy, and more. The problem is distribution, politics, and - yes - greed. We have a rapacious instinct, like locusts, but unlike locusts, we have a choice.
This is complex stuff, and worthy of more than a quick blog post. Many books have been written and many more will doubtless be.
The thing about influence - and the the thing about our status as sentient beings who can think about the past, the future, as well as the present - is that we can choose how to wield it.
Meanwhile, I have a kind of deep nostalgia for a world richly teeming with life. I'm sure I'm not alone. In 2023 I'll be looking for more opportunities to enhance the natural world.
This is my first blog post on my new website. In fact, it's my first website!
I live in the UK, and have been writing fiction about climate change for many years. I also write about relationships, particularly within families. I write short stories, novels and novellas. Occasionally I write articles.
So, welcome, reader. I hope you find something of interest on this site.
I am particularly interested in our relationship with the natural world. Humans are good at saying one thing and doing another - or we're good at sincerely meaning to do something - such as safeguarding nature - but often forget when other things seemingly take precedence. We're good at telling ourselves stories about why one thing should happen, over another thing. We're not good at living with tensions.
In my fiction I like to explore the stories we tell ourselves and each other, about nature and our place in it, and the many stories we tell about climate change and what we think it means.
Just so we're completely clear, the scientific consensus is that the current unprecedented heating of Earth is entirely due to human activity - the burning of fossil fuels. There is no dispute. Any apparent disagreement is due to an organised campaign of disinformation.
I'm a storyteller, interested in how we learn to live in a rapidly changing world. Please join me.