Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?
I will admit I enjoy the immediate buzz you get from completing a flash story. With longer pieces, I need to be in a very different place, psychologically, if I am going to be able to concentrate long enough to complete it. So, there is an element of addiction to writing flash, for me, because I can write it quickly. I enjoy that little hit you get from simply writing something and seeing where it takes you and then, at the end of the day, having a complete story there on the page. It’s very satisfying.
That said, I also like the distillation required for flash. Thinking about the right word or focusing on a single element, the intricacy of a description, say, or the precision in the tone/voice. Flash might be quick to write, but it still requires an intense form of concentration.
What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?
I need to have the voice for a piece in my head before I can put a single word on the page. If I can’t ‘hear’ it, I can’t write it. So, this means I probably lean more towards character, than plot. I think that’s the beauty of flash, it can be very self-contained, without there necessarily being an obvious plot. I remember reading a quote by Kathy Fish about this, and she put it very well: that there needs to be ‘movement’ and ‘flow’ in a flash piece as opposed to what you would classically define as ‘plot’, and I have yet to find a better way of explaining it.
Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?
Mostly quick and messy. Some pieces come out fully formed. Others I go back to (sometimes over years) and edit and refine – usually as a result of feedback from rejections. But the bones of a piece are always there pretty much immediately. I write often for Visual Verse and they ask you to write from a prompt and take no longer than an hour and I am always surprised at how much you can write in an hour, and also, how useful visual prompts can be to kick-start the creative process. I can definitely recommend it as an exercise.
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?
I walk a lot and I think this is a very important element of writing, for me. The steady pace, the rhythm of putting one foot in front of another and allowing that pace to dictate your thoughts. It’s so therapeutic and it works for me. It’s a very simple thing, but I really think slowing down at some point in the day is extremely useful in terms of gathering your thoughts together.
If you could recommend one flash story or writer, who/what would it be?
At the moment I think pretty much everything Cathy Ulrich writes is wonderful. She has a beautiful style and I love the way she manages to weave intricate ideas with subtle psychological observations. She is a master of the form and everyone should read her.
What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?
Oh gosh, that’s a very difficult question. So much of what gets published these days have such an ephemeral existence, it’s online one day and forgotten the next in the constant stream of the new, so it’s hard to tell what is getting attention and what isn’t. One flash story I am fond of is ‘Laika’ which was published by Visual Verse. This is probably because it is about a dog. I am very fond of dogs.
Jennifer Harvey is a Scottish writer now living in Amsterdam. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in various magazines in the USA and the UK, including: Folio, Carve, Fjords Review, Cheap Pop, Bare Fiction and The Lonely Crowd. She has been shortlisted for the Bristol Prize and the Bridport Prize, and in 2013 she was the Editor’s Choice winner in the Raymond Carver short story competition. She is a resident Reader for Carve magazine and loves discovering new stories. When not reading or writing, she can be found wandering the Amsterdam Canals dreaming up new stories.