Friday, 25 June 2010

Friday Flash 3

The Smell of Tornadoes

Raindrops slapped the wooden deck, swollen and bloated like drowned fish. With them came the smell, the smell of the atmosphere and all the charged ions that rumbled with pent-up friction.

The raindrops burst as they struck, flattening into discolouration, and the woman with her hair pulled back with an elastic band watched their stain spread across the oiled wood, the heat causing them to fade back even as she stood there, one hand resting on the screen door. A trickle of sweat ran down the V of her breasts beneath the INXS t-shirt. The air was weighted and thick.

A gust of wind brought a new smell from far off, the smell of the tornado, and she caught the stench of things pulled up, uprooted. Things that were never supposed to see the light of day. A tear tracked the path of her sweat, down her neck and under her t-shirt.

The storm burst, cascading lightening bolts as if they were seed corn as the thunder cracked above the house. The rain came faster, blotting out the trees on the other side of the field with grey haze. She drank in the release of the storm, reaching her arms out to its honesty.

And the woman turned to her husband who was seated at the kitchen table before a map of electronic parts he had taken from the vacuum cleaner, a smear of oil on his prickled chin.

Vince, she said. Vince. And he looked up into her moist eyes and frowned. I have something I need to tell you, she said. And this time you’ll listen.

The bloated raindrops fell, coating the oiled wood with slick reflections, so fast now that the solid heat could not absorb them all.

Photo courtesy of

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Interview: Nik Perring, Author of 'Not So Perfect'

Last week I reviewed 'Not So Perfect'. This week I have managed to catch up with the ultra-busy Nik Perring (he's just everywhere right now!) and interview him about writing.

Hello Nik, thanks for coming all the way over the Pond to my blog. Can I get you a tea or a coffee?

Hello, Jen! Thanks for inviting me. I like what you’ve done with the place. Tea please.

Have you always written or was there a day you just picked up a pen and went for it?

I’ve always written, just not always seriously. I used to write songs and bad incidental poetry, never really knowing what I was doing but having a bit of fun with it anyway. In 2002 (I think) I was made redundant and that gave me the opportunity to have a go at writing. And I did. I treated it seriously and spent a lot of time doing it and learning. I wrote a screenplay and sent it to the BBC who told me something along the lines of... we only pursue those we think will have a chance of ever writing anything good and promptly moved into writing features. I think my first piece was accepted the following year. Then, of course, I got interested in fiction...

When did you start writing short shorts or flash fiction? How did you discover it?

I started writing short stories right at the beginning. I think I’ve always tended towards them. Their structure seems to suit me and I understand it better than any other form. And I’ve always read short stories too, even before I was going to try to be a writer. The really important moment came when I discovered Aimee Bender, Etgar Keret and Sarah Salway, because after reading what they’d written I realised that I could write the sort of stuff I’d wanted to, with a chance of it being successful (of sorts!).

Do particular themes crop up in your writing in general?

Love, loss, relationships, being different, melancholic, darkly humorous - so people tell me! I don’t ever intend to incorporate any particular themes, they’re just kind of there!

My favourite story in the book was ‘Shark Boy’. The ending was just beautiful and heart-stopping all at once. Which is yours, and can you say why?

Thank you! I’m rather fond of Shark Boy too!

I don’t think I have a favourite – I’m very happy with all of them. I must say that I enjoy reading ‘In My Head I’m Venus’ though...

If you were to write a non-fiction book, what would it be about?

Ooh, good question! And, err, I don’t know! Mythology perhaps. Ghosts. Depression. Witchcraft. Curses. Conservation (for that, you can’t beat ‘The Ghost With Trembling Wings’ by Scott Weidensaul). I like those sorts of things. They’re interesting. Thing is, there are people far better suited to write those kinds of things who are much, much cleverer than me. I’d never say never though...!

Who are your favourite writers, of any genre?

Golly! Far too many to name them all. Here’s who comes to mind straight away:

Kurt Vonnegut, Aimee Bender, Etgar Keret, Mary Miller, Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Czyzniejewski, Michael Kimball, Sarah Salway, Arthur C. Clarke, Neil Gaiman, Alice Sebold, Caroline Smailes, Franz Kafka, A.C. Tillyer and Amy Hempel.

Thanks for popping round! Good luck with the book.

Thanks so much for having me! It’s been a pleasure. Next time – my place and I’ll provide the tea!

Nik Perring is a writer, and occasional teacher of writing, from the north west. His short stories have been published widely in places including SmokeLong Quarterly, 3 :AM and Word Riot. They’ve also been read at events and on radio, printed on fliers and used as part of a high school distance learning course in the US.

Nik’s debut collection of short stories, NOT SO PERFECT is published by Roast Books and is out now. Nik blogs here and his website’s here.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Friday Flash 2

Another Scottish apocalypse this week, but no zombies.

Highland Visitor

"I'll get it!" I scrambled over the squidgy eiderdown walls of the fort ahead of Rose, skidded across the wooden hall floor in my socks and pulled open the front door, making the wind chime jingle.
"Mam's just in the garden," I said to the angel who stood there. "She's trying to mow the lawn before it gets too dusky. Shall I away and get her?"
"No, no, it's fine," said the angel. "I don't want to bother her if she's busy. I'd just like a glass of water, if that's okay?"
"Caitrin!" hissed Rose from behind my knees. "We're not supposed to let strangers in without Mam."
"Aye, it's alright, it's an angel. Mam won't mind."
I pushed Rose backwards across the floor on her behind and stood back to let the angel in. He sidled in, looking a fair bit embarrassed.
"I won't stay long," he said. "I don't want to get you into any trouble."
He had a lovely voice, all warm and treacly.

I led him through to the kitchen and sat him down at the table. Mam would be far more annoyed if I was rude to a guest. The angel was carrying a wee golden trumpet and one of those swingy things you put incense in at church. Rose was still shuffling around on the floor and I could see she had spied the trumpet. She always acted skitty around people she didn't know and I was going to give her a proper chiding when the angel had gone.
To get her to act nicely I sent Rose to fetch some water, although I knew she'd have to stand on her pink stool to reach the tap. I asked the angel what he was doing all the way up in these parts.
"It's the apocalypse, you see," said the angel in his treacley voice. "I'm early, though." He leaned forward and I leaned in too. "Can you keep a secret?"
I nodded. "Aye."
"I'm a temp. I'm not supposed to be on duty at all. Half of the office is out on training and then the call came through." The angel shrugged and sighed. "I wasn't sure how long it would take me to get here so I set off early and of course now I'm the first one."
I'd had that before, that time of the junior disco down in the town, and I nodded.
Rose came back in the glass of water and put it on the table without spilling a drop.

Outside I could still hear the mower rattling around the garden with Mam in tow.
The angel took a few sips then put his glass down.
"I'd better go. Thanks for the water."
He seemed very jumpy now, nerves I suppose, and as I showed him to the door I gave his hand a wee squeeze.
"Good luck with the apocalypse."
The angel returned me a grin and a shrug.
"Thank you." And he disappeared off into the gloom.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Friday Flash

How about a bit of zombie apocalypse-themed flash fiction for a Friday?


When the zombie apocalypse came, Dev and his friends were ready. They’d trained, prepared, and visualised every step of their plan. As lifelong fans of quality science fiction they had always anticipated the day there would be news that an extremely contagious virus had leaked from a top-secret, high-security government lab causing people to eat their victims’ brains, and it was their sworn duty to run away very quickly.

The call from Hamish came at 10.20 a.m. Dev was at a job down in Leith fixing a pipe at a flat when that mobile started to ring with the signature theme from Shaun of the Dead.
“Hamish, tell me it’s true.”
“Dev, it’s all over News 24. An extremely contagious virus has leaked from a top-secret, high-security government lab causing people to eat their victims’ brains.”
“Let’s roll.”

They met at Hamish’s comic book shop, Vintage Vault, on South Clerk Street. Dev could see Sandy’s van parked outside. Inside, Sandy had an impressive array of weaponry stolen from the Royal Mile tourist shop he sometimes worked in.
“I’ve got a double-headed replica medieval axe each and two genuine Braveheart broadswords between the three of us. They’re for chopping off heads. The crossbows are for long-range action.”
“Good work, Sandy,” said Dev.

They loaded up the van with supplies stored in the back room of Vintage Vault: tins of food, a laptop, matches, first aid kits, sleeping bags, seeds, spades, oil lamps, gas burners, packets of crisps, cans of drink, radio equipment, and the box sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Farscape. The roads were quiet – the outbreak was confined to the South East of England for now – and as they joined the A90 the mood of optimism and camaraderie rose.
“The sat-nav reckons another four hours till we get to Loch Maree,” said Hamish. They high-fived and went over their plans for fortifications.

Twenty-eight weeks later and the country had fallen to the zombie plague, although pockets of resistance were left in the cities, according to radio broadcasts, and isolated crofts held out.
Up at Hamish’s grandma’s house on Loch Maree, Dev was bored and hungry. There hadn’t been electricity for months so the television and computer were useless, and the tinned food had all gone. The seeds couldn’t be planted till spring and worse, Hamish’s grandma was driving them mad with her constant talk of the War and how much better her generation would have coped with a zombie apocalypse. It had also dawned on them that none of them had girlfriends so repopulating the world was out.

Dev walked into the kitchen where Hamish and Sandy were playing cards.
“I’m going,” he said. Hamish and Sandy looked at each other.
“The van’s already loaded up,” said Sandy. With a desultory high-five they stashed Hamish’s grandma in the back seat and headed south.
“Glasgow or Edinburgh?” asked Dev.
“Edinburgh. Better class of zombie,” said Hamish. Sandy remained silent and concentrated on sharpening the weapons.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Review: 'Not So Perfect' by Nik Perring (Roastbooks)

The year I discovered flash fiction was incidentally the same year I discovered petits fours, the delicious bite-sized cakes and biscuits. Both are tiny, both are satisfying when done well, and both are an art form in their own right.

As a writer and reader of flash fiction, I know that it is very, very difficult to achieve that sense of satisfaction in so few words (generally under 1000). The brief nature of the form, however, can lend itself to experimentation far more so than longer short stories or novels.

In terms of language flash fiction has much in common with poetry. Every word matters. Characters must be sketched with economy, more like a line drawing than a painting. You have to absorb the reader from the first line, and the sum of the story should be far more than the individual words. In short, it should take flight.

My first impression of the book was how entirely gorgeous it is; the covers are artworks, the paper is thick, the font is pleasing and the size is just so unusual: square and begging to be gift-wrapped.

There are twenty-two stories in total, each tiny, complete slivers of life. The reader slices through at a tangent: details, snatches of conversation, brushstroke backgrounds are picked up on the way past.

Several of the stories spin around experimental concepts: a mechanical woman finds her perfect mate; a woman vomits animals; a gardener talks to his flowers, who listen; a man just fades away. You are trusted to not need explanation. For me they work as stories because you don’t feel the need to ask why, although if you aren't a fan of the off-kilter this could be a drawback.

Other stories are more conventional. My favourite of these is 'Sobs', about two lonely people in adjoining hotel rooms.

Some stories are more successful than others, but all of them work as good flash fiction should: they are greater than the sum of their parts. In ‘Seconds are Ticking By’ and ‘Shark Boy’ I felt Nik Perring demonstrates just what flash fiction should be when it is perfect: they flew. Then they lodge themselves inside you and flutter for long after you’ve read them.

If this book were food it would be an exquisite plate of petits fours. You admire them and nibble at them, wary of guzzling or you’d finish too soon. They are perfectly delicious.

'Not So Perfect' by Nik Perring is released 2nd June 2010