Updated: Jun 10
The craft of the micro fiction writer is a wonderful thing. As if Laura Besley hadn't impressed me enough with her collection The Almost Mothers, she returned with an even more dazzling feat in 100neHundred: 100 stories written in just 100 words.
Split into four sections, the collection takes us through a phenomenal amount of characters, situations, places and problems. What's perhaps more impressive than their length is their poignancy – I'm starting to associate Laura's writing with a beautifully written end-of-story phrase that leaves you with a little 'oh' of pleasure, sadness or just curiosity. Because although these are only snippets, they are done in such a way as to leave you with a much broader sense of the humanity and complexity of her narratives. Truly an impressive feat of writing.
I wanted to find out how Laura manages to get her stories so amazingly short yet wonderful, and how she went about publishing her collection. Read on to find out more.
Micro fiction has become very popular recently. How or why did you start writing such tiny stories?
I'd like to think micro fiction is enjoying its season in the sun not due to people's shortening attention spans, but more due to the accessibility and readability of this form on mobile devices. It is obviously quick to read, but in many ways takes just as much, sometimes more, concentration than other forms. When every word counts, you can't afford to skip even one.
The view from Laura's garden gate for her 5am writing
I discovered flash fiction (up to 1000 words) when I stumbled across Calum Kerr's blog online. He was writing and posting one 500-word story every day for a year. At the time I was quite new to writing and had plenty of opening paragraphs, but was struggling with the middles and endings, so I decided to do something similar: I wrote a flash fiction piece every day for a year and posted one a week on a blog I had at the time. Not long after that, I discovered Morgen Bailey's free monthly themed competition for 100-word stories (sadly it isn't running any longer). Each month you could enter up to three and that's what I did, nearly every month, for years. Literally years. I sent my first one in 2016. The great thing about being able to enter three was that it gave me the opportunity to experiment with developing different ideas from the same prompt.
Flash fiction and micro fiction fitted well around looking after my two small children. The drafting of a story can be very quick. There's often a lot of work needed in the editing stage, especially with a precise word count, but I found that if all the writing time I had in a day was 15 minutes - and I could get an entire story written in that time - I felt like I'd achieved something.
One thing that staggers me is the sheer number of people, places, situations and ideas in all your stories. How do you go about finding so many ideas?
Thank you - that's lovely to hear!
I don't think I find ideas, as such, I think it's more that I'm always open to them. They come from anywhere and everywhere: prompts for competitions and call outs, snippets of (overheard) conversations, books, TV, the radio, things that happen at home. And I write all of them down. I have lots of notebooks: in the kitchen, on my bedside cabinet, in my handbag - and as soon as I think of something, I write it down. I might never use it, but once it's written down I'm more likely to remember it as well as having it there for the future if I'm looking for an idea to work on.
The earrings Laura's sister bought her when 'The Almost Mothers' was published
Here are a couple of examples from everyday life:
In my story 'Potluck Shopping' a mother gets a bag of groceries for 50p from a church charity. This idea was sparked by a flyer I saw at the doctor's office.
'Filling In the Blanks' is about a Head Teacher who realises that her pupil's father doesn't have enough food to feed his family, which I wrote after reading about a food bank scheme in a school not far from where I used to live.
One morning while everyone else was asleep, I was writing downstairs in the kitchen and my son's toy dinosaur sprang to life which scared me senseless. When I was a child I thought there was a little man running down the road lighting up the cats' eyes. These two ideas together formed the basis of 'Out of Sight' where a man lives inside a toy dinosaur.
I read a book once (I can't remember the title) about a photo and how everyone in the photo remember the events of the day differently. I wrote a similar story in 'How the Camera Lies'.
I think one of the biggest joys of short fiction is experimentation. You can try anything and everything because a first draft only takes 15 minutes, or so, and if it doesn't work out, you can write something different next time. I think because of this, the form is wide open and that leads to a whole variety of stories.
Another incredibly impressive feat is how perfectly you manage to capture a whole world in such a small amount of words. What process do you go through to get from an idea to a perfectly formed 100-word story?
When I first started writing, the part I loved the most was scribbling the first draft. As far as I was concerned, that's where the 'real writing' took place. I would've been more than happy to hand over all these stories to someone for them to be sent off anywhere and everywhere. Looking back, I was pretty naive! And, I've realised, how much I was missing out because the 'true writing' happens in the editing. That's where you find the verb that works the hardest, or the perfect description, or spend thirty minutes rewording a sentence from 12 words to 11 to fit the word count. You might think I'm exaggerating, but I have honestly spent half an hour rewriting one sentence. There may have been a little shout of glee when I finally managed to get it right.
Back to the notebooks. I don't usually do my editing sitting at the computer or even sitting at all; I know which story I'm working on and try to think about it as I'm doing my household chores, or doing the grocery shopping. Driving is trickier, but I have been known to pull over and write down something I've been drafting in my head. I find the words often come more easily when I'm almost distracting myself from actually thinking about them.
100 stories means a lot of notebooks...
How did you go about getting your collection published and do you think there are any particular challenges for writers of short/flash fiction?
I think the biggest challenge for writers of short fiction is that the form can be misunderstood and undervalued. The misunderstanding is that writing short fiction is easy. No writing is easy. Each form has its challenges. Unfortunately short fiction doesn't have the same readership as longer fiction, which means that it is much harder to get it published, especially with a bigger publisher. Luckily, there is a plethora of independent publishers who are invested in publishing a wide range of short fiction.
My collection was accepted for publication by Cherry Potts at Arachne Press in March 2020, just before the first lockdown. Her publication schedule was put on hold for six months pending funding and I got the green light in September 2020. Out of the one hundred stories, around twenty-five were rejected for a variety of reasons, one of them being: 'There's too much death, Laura. No one wants to read about that much death.' I needed to deliver not only twenty-five new 100-word stories, but also all the edits on the remaining seventy-five by the end of December. What followed were three extremely intense months of writing and editing, most of which was done in the pre-dawn hours before anyone else in the house was awake. It was hard work, but all worth it and I'm very proud of the collection.
What is your best writing advice that you've received or would pass on to others?
I've heard so much writing advice over the years, it's hard to remember whether I read it or who to attribute it to. However, the most recent writing advice I was given was by my MA tutor, Dr. Jonathan Taylor, when we were discussing different writing forms and the various leanings of the market, which can sometimes be frustrating. I intimated I should try my hand at something more because it was expected or preferred, rather than because I had a burning desire to write it, to which Jonathan said: 'What you write finds you, not the other way around.' This struck me as infinitely true, both for my future and my past. I didn't set out to become a short fiction writer; when I first started writing, I hadn't even heard of flash or micro fiction, but it found me and I fell in love with it. I equally don't know what my writing future looks like. All I know is that I will continue to write and love what I write. Because that's ultimately what Jonathan's advice is: write what you love to write.
Laura Besley is the author of micro fiction collection, (Un)Natural Elements (Beir Bua Press, 2021), 100neHundred (Arachne Press, 2021), and flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers (Dahlia Books, 2020). She has been listed by TSS Publishing as one of the top 50 British and Irish Flash Fiction writers. Her work has been nominated for Best Micro Fiction and her story, To Cut a Long Story Short, will appear in the Best Small Fiction anthology in 2021. Having lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Hong Kong, she now lives in land-locked central England and misses the sea. She tweets @laurabesley
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