This might be embarrassing, but you’ve been flashing for a while now. Flash fiction is the story we tell friends, family or coworkers, the humorous snippet that we tell to make others connect. It's the series of tweets that create a profoundly weightless discussion; it's the Facebook status that's a barely concealed advertisement or narcissistic diatribe. Editing Flashers for Seizure has allowed me to appreciate the very short story on a new level, one that I see all around me. It's the format for our time, endless as the rest, but one that I see specifically as a ground for beginnings.
Many emerging writers begin in the classroom. Creative writing courses have increased in popularity and abundance in the 21st century, and many aspiring writers find a community on campus. It is here where they will complete their first writing exercises; the novel is a few semesters off. This is the proving ground where a student can practise and experiment without fear, because everyone is on a level playing field (well, as level as it is ever going to be). For me it was about stabilising. I remember one class in second year at QUT, Stylistics and Poetics, where each week we explored a new technique. Our homework was to write short pieces that focused on a particular aspect, say foreshadowing or dialogue. The point was not only to try a new style, but also to get used to the idea of writing, and that’s where you must start.
Flash fiction and Flashers let you get ideas out there in quick succession. We get a mix of writers submitting, with huge variations in style and quality, and part of the joy is working with (at times very) raw words. At the same time you don't have to be young to be an emerging writer, and we have a diverse range of authors that have been published, from uni students to middle-aged novices and beyond. Speaking of diversity, over two yearswe are on track to publish a fifty-fifty gender split, with a slight slant towards more women published than men without any conscious effort. Australian emerging writers are a tenacious bunch if our Submittable is anything to go by, with multiple entries and constant submissions. Of course it would be better to publish an even wider range of voices, which is something to think of for the future. Without the writers Flashers couldn't have come as far as it has.
Flashers began as the first major project for Seizure Online, a quick bite designed to entice you to come back for the other juicy servings. But we can’t take credit for Flashers being the sole outpost for flash fiction in Australia: Spineless Wonders, Antipodean SF and the Fellowship of Australian Writers (Qld) all have either regular or intermittent flash fiction forays. The very short form has had something of a boom in Australia since Flashers began, including the Overland Story Wine Prize. We don’t like to gloat and say we kicked things off, but, well…maybe? Last year we also began using Flashers as a place to combine new writers with aspiring artists, as the fantastic illustrative accompaniments of Finbah Neil showed. This year we have expanded the opportunities to Luke Marcatili, Max Prentis, Yiscah Symonds and finally Sam Paine, all artists with a unique flair and, importantly, work ethic! I think you’ll agree that Flashers works as a launch pad in numerous ways.
Finally, there are the editors. I began by taking over the reins from Fiona Dunne who first championed Flashers. In the beginning I was joined by Emily Brugman and long-time stalwart Eleanor Chandler. Then Emily was replaced by Alice Bishop, before both she and Eleanor bowed out earlier this year. Now I edit alongside the wonderful Lily Mei Murray and Em Meller, both of whom worked on the UTS Anthology. I hope that for all the editors Flashers has been a fantastic entry point into the world of editing, deadlines, the need for communication and the endless slush pile. I like to think that since I started in 2014 I have managed to hone the process down to specifics, moulding procedures until they are smooth. For me it isn't so much the line editing, although I have learned a lot in that regard, but more deciding which stories to publish, and being the nexus for that publication. I’ll admit, we missed some weeks (we are a weekly project) but I have no regrets. It’s been a superb learning experience.
What about my advice for aspiring entrants into the Great Hall of Flashers? As Jennifer Mills said in one of her judges’ reports for a short story prize, ‘A short story doesn’t have to have a neat ending, but it should turn.’ So too with a very short story. Conflict, a shift, development and all that makes a story should not be culled simply for the sake of a word count. You can have the prettiest expressions or the edgiest commentary, but try to hook the reader sentence by sentence, word by word. You want to be more than a flash in the pan.
So thank you to Seizure – Alice Grundy, Dave Henley, Portia Lindsay – for the wonderful opportunity, and I wish good luck to the next editor, Lily Mei (and Emily Meller on the new Flashers Non-fiction). May the Flashers story continue, but my moment has come to an end.