Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?
I should start by stating that I’m probably a novelist, at my core. I began writing by finishing a novel, but then I didn’t have a clue about editing it. So I moved to shorter forms of fictions. Through AdHoc Fiction, I discovered flash fiction (Jude Higgins & the Bath Flash Fiction Award are doing such an amazing job at promoting the form). Flash gave me the feeling that I was more in control of what I was saying, and I learned to self-edit by editing my flashes. Also, the community is amazing! I connected with other writers through Twitter, I met my writing group during a workshop with Kathy Fish.
Nearly three years later, I can say that my flashes come from a very different place than my novels and that my writing process is entirely different. But I didn’t know that in the beginning. Flash gave me the tools that I needed to grow further as a writer, and the flash community gave me the support I needed so dearly.
What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?
I often build my flashes around a particular situation or idea and then start questioning my characters’ motivations, and how they got to that point. Like in my piece ‘The Caesarean’ where a surgeon steals a woman’s kidney during a cesarean section. This is the naked, cruel fact that was my starting point. For my novella-in-flash BOTTLED GOODS, it was the image of a hungry woman who had been detained at the Socialist Republic of Romania’s border for days, hiding something very small and precious in a perfume bottle. I built my novella around that, and it branched out in the most unexpected direction.
But just as often, a flash fiction, especially one that comes from deep within, might be triggered by an emotion. This is often the case with flashes I write in longhand, without overthinking. The story just flows and finds its own focus in my notebook. I just have to step back, find the story, and start typing it up on my laptop.
Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?
Ooof. It depends so much on what I’m writing. If a piece comes from within, it pours quickly, and I rarely change everything once it has come into focus while I transferred it from longhand to computer.
But much more often, I write a flash slowly, obsessing over every single word, every single sentence, while my mind tries to figure out if this is indeed the most relevant aspect of the story I’m trying to write. I think writing flash fiction has made me very picky when it comes to what I choose to put on the page when and what I leave out. I constantly question if I’m presenting the most relevant details where plot, character traits or dynamics between characters are involved.
What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?
If I only had to choose one single thing, I think that would be a certain feeling of displacement, a motive that recurs in so many of my flashes. I grew up in Romania, now I live in Germany and I write in English for English-speaking markets. I guess you realise where the displacement theme comes from.
If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?
There are so many writers I admire for their skill with words, you wouldn’t believe it! So many stories that stayed with me. Flash fiction world is absolutely effervescent right now. However, I’m lucky enough to be the Resident Flash Fiction Writer at TSS Publishing, for whom I’ve written a series of articles. I’ve been able to link to most of my favourite stories to underline certain aspects of the craft of flash fiction. Let me refer you to a couple of these articles, where you can discover some brilliant stories:
What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?
It’s not necessarily about recognition, but I’m very fond of one of the pieces from my novella-in-flash BOTTLED GOODS, and particularly a piece called ‘The Saturday When Everything Changed.’ I used an unusual form — the story is formatted like a timetable, following Alina’s steps throughout the day. At the end of each entry, I repeat the phrase ‘Nothing has changed,’ until the very end when everything changes for my protagonist. Then, I put in so many childhood memories, evoked the atmosphere in Romanian classrooms, maths textbooks and the stifling gossips of a small town. Also, I mention chicken Kiew. I love chicken Kiew, but then, my entire novella is peppered with mentions of my favourite foods.
Bio: Sophie van Llewyn was born in Romania, but now lives in Germany. She’s an anaesthetist. Her prose has been published by Ambit, New Delta Review, The Lonely Crowd, New South Journal etc. Her novella-in-flash BOTTLED GOODS (Fairlight Books) has been longlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize 2019 and for the People’s Book Prize. Sophie is represented by Juliet Mushens at Caskie Mushens. @sophie_van_l
One thought on “Mini-Interview with Sophie van Llewyn”
I’ve just read The Caesarian. Your description of the woman’s body are wonderfully visceral. I love the way you build up the doctor’s situation, making it abundantly clear what is at stake without explaining it.