Today on our blog we have an interview with writer, editor and coach Michael Loveday about his new chapbook.
Michael Loveday is a fiction writer and poet. His other publications are: the craft guide Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash: from Blank Page to Finished Manuscript (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2022); the hybrid novella-in-flash Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018); and the poetry chapbook He Said / She Said (HappenStance Press, 2011). Michael lives in Bath, England, and works as an editor and coach for writers, artists and creatives/freelancers, as well as lecturing in creative writing in Higher Education.
Can you tell us about how your new collection came about?
Partly by chance – I was working on a longer collection (of about 70-80 stories) and one day decided to try dividing the manuscript into sections based on subject matter. And I suddenly noticed I had a whole bunch about family and childhood – about 30 stories. And I thought – oh! that’s interesting. I hadn’t noticed that I’d been writing much about that. And I realised it felt like new territory for me as a writer. And so then I got intrigued by the possibility of publishing some of those 30 pieces as a distinct pamphlet or chapbook as an interim publication while I was finishing the full manuscript. I’ve always loved themed pamphlets and chapbooks – the slightly subversive or non-mainstream feel of them. It took a long while to figure out which stories from the 30 to include. Plus I decided to write some more, once I noticed I had a handful that were using folk tale and fable motifs. And I had help from a whole bunch of people to edit them and mull over which ones to discard. Eventually it became clear that one possible unifying theme was the way children related to adults (or older children), and the pressures and conflicts and joys of those interactions. So that became the way to decide which to drop and which to keep.
What is your response when people say that flash fiction is quick and / or easy to write?
My response is: maybe it is for them. But not for me. And that’s ok. My experience is that if I really give my words and sentences and paragraphs and stories time, I notice opportunities to improve them. I find this aspect of the process thrilling: the little light bulbs that switch on in my brain late on in the process. For me, the last 20% takes 80% of the time. I do think there are different kinds of writer. Some people hate editing and feel that their stories get worse when they edit them. So this becomes a self-reinforcing loop – they don’t trust their editing process, and they don’t enjoy editing, so they see little point in giving a short piece of writing a lot of time. With me, many of my first drafts are so half-baked anyway, I had to embrace editing. Plus, I came to flash via poetry. And it’s totally normal for poets to spend months (or even years, sometimes) letting a poem brew. Because the whole ecosystem for poetry, which historically was always associated with print magazines, has generally worked to a much slower rhythm. Whereas so many flash fiction writers in recent years got used to being allowed to make simultaneous submissions to multiple online journals and getting responses back within days or weeks. And so, you get caught up in the rush of that process and expect quick results. But sometimes when I get a rejection back from a magazine I’ve rushed to submit to when I’m caught up in a buzz of creativity, I’m hugely relieved, because in the meantime I’ve had a brainwave about how a story could be slightly better and would have been gutted to see it published that original way anyway. That might sound mad to some writers at Retreat West, but I know that there will be many others here who can totally relate to this!
How do you know when an idea is the one that will become a story?
I am always bewildered if I try to look back at stories I’ve written and consider how they emerged. The whole process is so mysterious and confusing and haphazard and downright varied, because each new story seems to create brand new conditions for its own creation. I don’t really have any favourite strategies I rely on, for example. In hindsight, I am amazed that they get written at all. I dearly wish I had time to keep notes about how individual stories emerge, and time to go back over these notes and identify patterns. I think that could potentially be really illuminating for a writer to do. But the reality is that I’m usually so busy in my work, juggling different kinds of activity, and thinking about other people’s writing, that I don’t have the time or space in which to do that – the priority in the spare time is doing the writing itself. I think it may have been the Irish poet Michael Longley who said “If I knew where poems came from, I’d go there.” I have found something similar to be true for stories. Especially this applies to a miscellaneous collection which, for me at least, contains something fundamentally haphazard in its construction (as distinct from something like a novella-in-flash, where I could imagine a bit more planning being involved for most of us who attempt them). While I was working on the longer, full collection, I did keep a very long list of one phrase/one sentence ideas on my iPhone – every time a memory bubbled up, or I witnessed something on the street, or I noticed something interesting in a conversation I was having, I would aim to write that thing down just in a few words on my phone. I ended up with hundreds of things in that list. And then when I had a spare bit of time to do some writing, I’d scroll through the list and pick one that caught my eye in that moment. But how that turns into story… right now that feels like a mystery. It’s something I sort of want to understand and sort of don’t want to understand, actually. It’s some interaction between the hand and the brain and the heart that is mostly instinctive, in the drafting phase. And then you try to hammer and coax it into shape following whatever best practice you’ve learned over the years, in terms of editing. That, for me at least, is the aspect of writing that is learned gradually and more consciously over time.
For more about Michael’s writing, editing and coaching services: