In the first of on occasional series by me (Gaynor) I’m going to share how one of my flash fiction stories came to be. I’m all about transparency and openness in writing, so maybe something here will help, or maybe you’ll just find it interesting. I’m going to include stories that did well, that didn’t get anywhere, and sometimes that I didn’t even finish! Hope you enjoy these insights.
THE THING BETWEEN YOUR LEGS (2018)
(Please note, this story references childbirth, stillbirth, harassment)
Idea: I was relatively new to writing again (for those who don’t know, I wrote years ago, had a big break due to poor mental health and then started again properly in 2017) and I was very analytical, always trying to figure stories out, as if there was a magic formula. I read a flash piece that was so layered that I couldn’t even figure out what it was about, and honestly it made me quite cross. On the third read, I realised it was about penises (yes, really) and I thought, ‘well why didn’t you just say that then?’ So, my idea was ‘I’m going to write a story about vaginas that is so much about vaginas that there will be no doubting it.’
Development: So then, I started to think, okay, but what exactly am I going to write? I decided to free-write, setting a timer for half an hour and just seeing what came out. And what came out was all the little digs, all the embarrassing moments, all the injustice and unfairness I had felt at various times in my life. Now, I can see that this story isn’t about vaginas at all, but about what it means to be a young woman trying to figure things out, and trying to protect other young women (a key theme in most of my early work).
Editing: Please don’t hate me, but I don’t think I edited it at all, apart from fiddling around with the names ‘Beryl’ and ‘Agnes’ to make sure they matched the effect I wanted.
Submitting: You can tell this was an early story because I submitted it about twenty minutes after I finished writing it. I honestly thought it was a bit of a joke and that no one would read it, never mind publish it. When it was accepted by Bending Genres, I was happy, but baffled, but it got lots of positive comments from my writer pals. I decided to submit it to the Mairtín Crawford Award as you could enter with a previously published piece. When it won, I was in utter shock. It was my first big competition win, and I cherish the experience, even though the title meant that I was almost invited onstage to share ‘The Thing Between My Legs’
Reflections: Although I still love this story (and it is included in my collection) I do wince a little at the arrogance behind the writing of it. Now, I understand the importance of layers and depth and the balance of keeping things off the page. But back then, I really didn’t get it. There is also a LOT of me in this story, to the point where it could almost be CNF, and indeed when I first performed it live I was asked if it was a true story. I’m much better nowadays at detaching myself from my work, or at least thoroughly hiding myself in the details 👀
Gaynor Jones is the recipient of a 2020 Northern Writer’s Award from New Writing North for her short story collection, Girls Who Get Taken, and an ACE DYCP grant for her current project, The Wild Ones
She has won first prize in several short fiction competitions, including the Bath Flash Fiction Prize 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. She is represented by Laura Williams at Greene & Heaton.