The inaugural Flash Fiction Festival, dedicated to the shortest of literary forms, kicked off in Canberra recently. One of the nicest things about festivals is hanging out with other writers, and there was plenty of that. But there was also ‘work’ to be done. I ran an editing workshop, and spoke on what was possibly the biggest literary panel ever, with five of us talking about our writing processes.
In the spirit of flash fiction, there were a series of short keynotes addresses. Jackie French spoke about how writers have just seven seconds to hook an editor or a reader. ‘You can tell within seven seconds whether it’s good, or you can put it aside … And if it’s good you’ll get another seven seconds, and another and another.’ She also spoke about the importance of being edited and taking on tough feedback. ‘If you are a professional you are going to love it. A good strong editorship is wonderful. You get to work with a professional team on all the ideas from your brain to make them better.’ Not surprisingly, I heartily agree. She finished by reading a passage from Hitler’s Daughter, possibly my favourite book of hers (if you haven’t read it yet, you must) and told us to: ‘Write what matters. Use your words as spears.’
In her keynote, Carmel Bird was witty and erudite and just plain delightful. She read the funniest story I’ve heard/read in a long time about a cockroach on the brink of death (‘The Affair at the Ritz’). And I loved her concluding thought: ‘All fiction engages at the most mysterious level.’ That it does.
Marion Halligan arrived with notes on the back of an envelope but was her usual eloquent self, musing on writing, publishing and punctuation. Craig Cormick had us all laughing as he delivered an anthropological analysis of the strange creature known as ‘writer’. Sheryl Gwyther spoke about setting up the 52-week Flash Fiction Challenge, now in its fifth year, and how it forced her to produce a work a week: ‘You can’t fail in front of everybody else if you set it up.’ Some of her pieces have provided the impetus for longer works. In a similar vein, Susan McCreery spoke about how her decision to write a flash a day evolved into a book.
There was heaps more on offer, including a range of workshops with Jack Heath, Susanne Gervay and Josh Donellan, among others. Oh, and I did my first ever bathroom book signing! (Thanks for accosting me, Susie.) At least it wasn’t pushed under the toilet door. (This has happened to at least one person I know.)
It was a wonderful event to be a part of, and congratulations must go to Suzanne Kiraly and the team. I’m keen to see how it evolves next year after getting off to such a cracking start. In the meantime there is an anthology of flash in the works, to be edited by yours truly. Stay tuned!
Thanks to Craig Cormick, Susanne Gervay, Sheryl Gwyther and Suzanne Kiraly for the pix.