This month our Flash In Five comes from Gaynor Jones.
Something Like Drowning (click title to read)
Idea: Like other flash pieces before, this one started life in a Kathy Fish workshop. I honestly can’t remember the prompt, but I recall something about writing a scene in three different ways. I was in the very early stages of my novella-in-flash, which is centred around a young girl who lives on a farm. In Kathy’s workshop, I had sketched out two girls and a boy climbing haystacks. I’m interested in the cusp between childhood and adulthood and the complex feelings and behaviours that emerge at that time.
Development: I took the initial idea of danger in a farm surrounding, and then started flicking back through my childhood memories. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but my Dad lived in a rural area and every other weekend was spent at his house, and at the farm down the road. I made a list of all the things that had felt risky – my Dad walking on the frozen canal to collect a piece of his gate that had been thrown onto it, stroking the cows one day then seeing strange blotches on their skin, the dogs that ran wild. I as very young during this time, so I then melded these memories with later teen ones, which involved drinking a LOT of cider.
Editing: You may not pick up on it on a first read, but I took great care with the language on this one! The initial story flew out quite easily, but as we all know, in flash it’s important to make every word count, and to present a cohesive story in a tight space. The main thing I worked on was separating out each moment into we / you / I. At the start of the piece, I used ‘we’ to show the relationship between the two girls. Then as more risk comes in I shifted to ‘you’ to try and put across a sense of blame and distance. Finally, when my protagonist has betrayed her friend I used ‘I’. Then there’s this sentence: I read them and it was like a knife / hadn’t / sliced / something / between us. I was trying to create a more staccato rhythm – I was thinking of the girl gasping, or her heart breaking, something that slowed down the story. I guess it looks a bit pretentious and dramatic written down, but then aren’t teen girls often a bit pretentious and dramatic?
Submitting: It’s a way back so I don’t really remember any thought process before submitting. I’m fairly certain I only tried it at competitions rather than publications as I felt (and still feel) it’s one of my strongest pieces. Of course, I was very excited to be placed third in the 2019 Anton Chekov Award for Short Fiction, but also a little disappointed when I realised that there was no prize money for runners up. Maybe that sounds bad but as a freelancer money is always tight! I thought I’d give it a second try at the Aesthetica competition, which I’d heard was very prestigious, and once again I was very excited that it made the shortlist and once again there was no prize money 😆 But, as it was published in their print anthology it counts towards my ALCS.
Reflections: I really like this story, I feel like it represents a significant shift, where I really know both what I wanted to write about, and how I wanted to write it. The ‘voice’ in this story carries on in other pieces of mine and I think it’s an archetypal Gaynor story
Gaynor Jones is the recipient of a Northern Writer’s Award from New Writing North for her short story collection, Girls Who Get Taken, and an Arts Council England DYCP Award for her novel-in-progress.
She has won first prize in several writing competitions, including Bath Flash Fiction and the Mairtín Crawford Short Story Award, and has placed or been listed in others including the Bridport Prize and Aesthetica.
She loves stories that feature wayward teens, middle-aged women who’ve had enough, and the darker sides of suburban life.