Flash In Five – November 2023 – Avitus B. Carle

This month our Flash In Five comes from Avitus B. Carle

How We Survive (click title to read)

Idea: “How We Survive” has gone through several revisions, which is why I struggled to remember the origins of the initial idea. I did some detective work and discovered that the story originated in Meg Pokrass’ microfiction masterclass workshop! The prompt was to write a story addressed to someone off the page with one of the examples being “You’ve Stopped” by Tommy Dean. I love repetition in flash and how the echoes of a word or phrase can portray so much of the character, whether that be an exploration of the truth, a signal of denial or a mind that’s been broken, or reflections on something that’s come to an end.

Development: I was deeply immersed in my apocalypse era of writing and wanted to explore the complexities of relationships, especially breakups. Since my character is addressing someone off the page, why not have them tell the story of their survival to the reader? My next question became, how to make this particular breakup stand out without relying on the apocalypse as the event or moment of conflict that makes this breakup interesting. In what way can I complicate this specific breakup that still makes my character unique and complicated enough to hold the readers’ attention without being predictable? I decided that my character and her love interest would be the last people on earth, she wanting a relationship while her love interest has already found love with someone who is unexpected, yet perfect, for a romance at the end of the world. I then wanted to focus on how my main character navigates an unrequited love and separation from the only other human left on earth.

Editing: Initially, this was supposed to be a micro. However, Lorraine is a force. The more I explored the lives of these three characters, the more I wrote until I exceeded the word count requirements expected for a micro. I posted a portion of the story for workshop, ending with Lorraine (a mannequin and lover of my main character’s love interest) leaning in the doorframe of my main character’s bedroom, and saved the flash-length draft to my computer. This workshop took place during the summer of 2021 and I didn’t return to the story until the fall of that same year. I still wasn’t sure what was missing until Tara Campbell suggested separating the repetition of “We Survive On…” statements to heighten the sense of isolation. I also added several more line breaks to allow the story to breathe, to create even more white space on the page, and italicize any dialogue between my characters so the moments in which the last people on earth connect really stand out amongst the chaos and conflict provided by Lorraine.

Submitting: I had two places in mind for this story. One I’d been receiving personal rejections from and thought, surely, this story would be the one to convince them! The other, Lost Balloon, I’ve been a huge fan of since I first started writing. Lost Balloon had also published one of my first flashes, “White Ribbons,” and I believed this story coincided with the inspiration behind the magazine’s name: “…those small and sad but whimsical moments in life.” Lost Balloon accepted the story and later nominated the piece for Best Small Fictions!

Reflections: Out of all my stories so far, I have the most fun reading, “How We Survive.” To quote a member from Meg Pokrass’ microfiction masterclass workshop, “To be dumped for a mannequin in an apocalyptic world…oof, that’s rough!” Watching the “oof” of realization show on the audiences faces keeps me coming back to this story, to Lorraine, and finding more ways to distort our ideas of relationships, even at the end of the world.

Avitus B. Carle (she/her) lives and writes outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Formerly known as K.B. Carle, her flash has been published in a variety of places including the Fractured Lit, ASP Bulletin, Five South Lit., Lumiere Review, -ette review, and elsewhere. Avitus’s flash, “Black Bottom Swamp Bottle Woman,” was recently selected as one of Wigleaf’s 2023 Top 50 and nominated for the O. Henry Prize. Her story, “A Lethal Woman,” is included in the 2022 Best Small Fictions anthology. She can be found at avitusbcarle.com or online everywhere @avitusbcarle.

Flash In Five October 2023 – Christine Collinson

This month our Flash In Five comes from writer Christine Collinson

A Climmer’s Chance, (click title to read) published by Janus Literary (online) and in A Pillow of White Roses (Ellipsis Zine).

Idea: My sources for generating ideas are quite broad: non-fiction books and articles, historic sites, podcasts, period dramas, and documentaries, are some of my typical starting points. I was listening to a BBC History Extra podcast about birds when I first came across ‘Climmers’ (or Climbers) [Pets, pests & portents: birds through time, April 2022]. This led me to some early film footage of Flamborough Head in Yorkshire [The Egg Harvest of Flamborough Head (1908), Cricks & Sharp]. Although black and white, and silent, it was so absorbing that a story idea emerged almost at once.

Development: A routine working day, perhaps, but what more could lie behind a perilous life at a cliffside? At the time, I was often writing stories around the theme of livelihoods (more on that later). The Climmers’ life clearly leant itself to an atmospheric setting, so I just needed to find that unique character arc. The footage of the workers was my starting point. I then considered what might drive my main character. It’s the same basic question for the past as now: what makes people get up every morning? So, my character’s motivation (aside from earning a living), would be partly romantic endeavour; something to keep his spirits up when the going was hard.

Editing: This story didn’t require too much editing, as occasionally happens, which gave me some confidence that the concept held together well. The film footage was in my mind as I wrote the first draft, so those images really helped to frame the main narrative. I often use first person from the outset and it seemed to lend the immediacy I hoped to convey here. Describing the coastal scene was a joy, but as usual in my work, I tried to avoid common phrases. The one I did use, “As sure as eggs is eggs,” was part of speech, which meant I could get away with it!

Submitting:  I think this piece went out to one or two journals and was declined, initially. Declines affect me less than they used to and I’m fully accepting that historical fiction is not always easy to place. I didn’t make any changes after the declines. With time (years!), I’ve learnt to trust my instincts a little more and I was happy with it. Then, I was approached by Janus Literary inviting me to submit to their Editor’s Showcase. I sent three quite varied flash pieces. A Climmer’s Chance was selected from those and featured in the August 2022 Showcase.

Reflections: When I was compiling my flash collection themed around livelihoods for the 2023 Ellipsis Zine Novella/Collection Competition, A Climmer’s Chance was a natural fit. I’m so pleased that as a result of first prize in that competition, it found a second home in A Pillow of White Roses.

Christine Collinson writes historical short fiction. Her debut collection, A Pillow of White Roses, was published in 2023 by Ellipsis Zine (also available from Amazon UK). Over the past five years, her work has been widely published in online journals and print anthologies. Find her on Bluesky and X @collinson26.

Flash In Five – September 2023 Emily Devane

This month our Flash In Five comes from writer Emily Devane

The Word Swallower (2018) Ellipsis Zine (click title to read)

Idea: This story came about by accident. I wanted to write a piece of flash for the National Flash Fiction Day anthology, on that year’s theme of ‘food’. I still have my notebook, filled with abandoned notes. I wanted to write something that would stand out. It was in thinking around the theme that an idea came to me: what if I told a story about people who eat things that aren’t food? I was familiar with stories about pregnant women craving coal, earth or chalk. I have hypo-sensory tendencies, so this was something I could relate to, albeit in a small way. I went down a lengthy research rabbit hole, exploring the phenomenon of people eating non-food substances. Pica, as it’s known, is classed as an eating disorder. The story started life as a paragraph with the holding title ‘The Paper Eater’.

Development: At the back of my mind was the expression: you are what you eat. I became interested in the concept of a person eating paper, and somehow becoming the words on the page. The story set out in a playful direction. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this but the tale about the eaten lunch ticket actually happened to me, and it provided a humorous jumping off point. Then I thought of other things that might be eaten – and what might be rejected by the discerning paper eater (I had fun with that part!). But at this stage, the story was a series of anecdotes. As I worked on the story, it became clear that this character was eating paper due to a lack of something. By the final draft, this girl has become so shaped by the words she has consumed, she is now unrecognisable to her own mother. Everything slotted into place with that last line – another literalised metaphor. Sometimes that happens, and it feels like magic – a ‘ta-da’ moment.

Editing: During the editing stage, I switched perspectives. In the first draft, the story was told from the mother’s perspective but that made it harder to convey the final message. Third person allowed me to shift tones as the story progressed. I decided the title, ‘The Paper Eater’, wasn’t doing enough work. This girl wasn’t just eating paper, she was consuming words – and swallower seemed to have more resonance as a word. We talk of people swallowing a story whole or being swallowed up by something. That word seemed to better reflect the transformation at the heart of the story, and I felt it would prime the reader for something a little deeper. I still have the first draft of this story and it was one that grew and evolved rather than being honed and polished. I know I’m unusual in this, but I resist over-editing. First drafts have an energy and rhythm to them that’s hard to replicate.

Submitting:  I ended up not sending this to the NFFD anthology – ironically, in my attempt to think outside the box, my story had become too removed from the theme of ‘food’. I submitted the story to Ellipsis Three (the print edition), along with another story, ‘Night Music’. Steve told me he’d like to publish both stories – ‘Night Music’ ended up in the print zine, and ‘The Word Swallower’ was published online. I was thrilled when it was later nominated for Best of the Net and went on to be a finalist.

Reflections: I’m still fond of this piece because it reminds me to play. Too often, I forget that bit!

Emily Devane is a writer, editor and teacher based in Ilkley West Yorkshire. She has taught workshops and courses for Comma Press, Dahlia Press, London Writers’ Cafe and Northern Writers’ Studio. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, a Northern Writers’ Award and a Word Factory Apprenticeship. Emily’s work has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Best Microfictions Anthology, Lost Balloon, Ambit and others. She is a founding member at FlashBack Fiction. Emily co-hosts Word Factory’s Strike! Short Story Club and runs a monthly social writing group at The Grove Bookshop, Ilkley. Find her on twitter @DevaneEmily and @WordsMoor


Mum doesn’t agree with enclosed/silent orders, nuns who waste their lives praying when they should be helping people. You silently dissent. Extreme nunhood is for you the ideal, unlike being in a rowdy family.

Books about nuns keep arriving from the Catholic Book Club. You know eighteen is old to be accepted for a noviciate. Best apply the moment you turn fifteen.

Or get a quiet job, buy a quiet flat/house, live a quiet life. And find quiet places to go on holiday, places that smell of incense.

Mum sighs. “You were a bouncy little girl, but you went quiet.”

This story was shortlisted for the September 2023 Monthly Micro Competition.

About the author: Frances Gapper’s stories have been published in three Best Microfiction anthologies and online in places including Splonk, Switch, Wigleaf, Twin Pies, trampset, 100 word story and New Flash Fiction Review.

Flash In Five

This month our Flash In Five comes from micro and flash fiction writer James Montgomery

Boys In Boxes (2023) (click title to read)

Idea: Satisfyingly, the idea for this flash started with the very final line: ‘our real lives are waiting, new and ours and unboxed’. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with that line for quite a while, but I knew there was something there, particularly in the use of the word ‘unboxed’. It intrigued me. Originally, I’d thought of doing some kind of story about dolls (?!) but – even before putting fingers to keyboard – I knew it lacked any kind of emotional resonance, at least for me. I hadn’t found the heart of the story. So, I left it alone for a while. A lot of my flashes start in this way; a phrase or collection of words that come to me when I’m doing anything but writing, which keeps me curious.

Development: One evening, I came across an article about those who had died from AIDS in New York in the late 1980s. Unclaimed bodies were sent to Hart Island to be buried in anonymity in a mass grave. The stigma and lifestyle associated with AIDS during this time meant many who died were estranged from their families. Furthermore, private burials were difficult to arrange, as many funeral directors refused to handle AIDS corpses or charged much higher fees. As a gay man, this broke me. Also, I couldn’t imagine how challenging it must have been coming to terms with your sexuality against this backdrop – although, having grown up in the 90s, I certainly experienced its aftereffects. The fact that so many victims were buried in mass graves, without even a coffin – or ‘box’… You can see how my brain started to join the dots together.

Editing: The decision to use first-person plural was fairly instant, as well as the title. I also quickly knew I wanted to use boxes as a repeating motif, to capture pivotal moments during the lives of these boys as they grow up and approach adulthood. I struggled with the first line to begin with, wanting to make the point that so many of these men were buried without even the dignity of a coffin, but it was a challenge to quickly orientate the reader and do all the things good flash should, plus include this kind of detail for the reader without any kind of context. There were also a couple of instances where I was trying to shoehorn the ‘box’ element in a tad too much. In an earlier form, that final sentence began, ‘We free our favourite cassette from its box’, but someone in my writing group pointed out that I needed to trust the reader more; they would recognise this motif even without it being explicitly stated. Also, it meant that the final ‘unboxed’ felt more earned when it arrived. My friend Sherry Morris provided excellent, thoughtful feedback, and my writing group Flash Corral helped further refine it.

Looking back, there were two editing tips that really helped me, which I can recommend. First of all – and we’ve all heard this one repeatedly – but I read it out loud again and again and again, which helped get the rhythm just right. Secondly, and this is a little more unusual, but I became obsessed with a certain pop song around the time when I was writing this story. I would have the song playing on repeat in the background while I worked on it. I’m not going to reveal which song it was, but the track has a yearnful quality to it, which absolutely complemented the tone of this piece. It also helped me find the voice and feel of this story when coming back to working on it. This may be a technique other writers find useful when editing?

Submitting: I’d submitted to the quarterly Reflex Fiction competition a couple of times and never had any joy. Then Reflex announced its winter 2022 round would be the final one, and I knew I needed to have this story ready to submit. Over time, I’ve learned that having a hard and fast deadline is the best motivator for getting anything finished.

Reflections: I feel there’s so much you can learn from just drafting a single story. With this one, I feel like I learned a lot about the power of a motif, the impact sound and rhythm can have, and how infusing sentences with double-meaning can do so much heavy-lifting. I’m still pleased with lines like, ‘as everyday as pouring the last remains of dust from a cereal box’, and what that implies in the context of the story, and these boys smoking a cigarette with ‘Tommy or Rico or Scott’, breathing in ‘how it smoulders – the hit, the rush…’ These kinds of dual layers make a story so much richer. It’s a special story for me and, as it stands, it’s probably the flash I’m most proud of.

James Montgomery lives in Stafford, England. He writes flash fiction and micro fiction. To date, his stories have appeared in Reflex Fiction,Gone Lawn, Maudlin House and elsewhere. He is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. In 2021, he won the Best Micro Fiction Prize at the Retreat West Awards for ‘The Only Way I Can Make Sense of the Word ‘Recovery’ is to Smash it into Pieces’. He is a member of the Betas & Bludgers and Flash Corral writing groups.

Outside of writing, James works full-time for a leading and award-winning B2B marketing consultancy, directing energy, technology and engineering brands on their content marketing strategies. He has a CIM Diploma in Professional Marketing from the Oxford College of Marketing, an MA degree in Journalism from Staffordshire University, and a First Class BA degree in English Literature from Lancaster University.

Meet The Writer – Debbi Voisey

Today on our blog we have a Q & A with writer Debbi Voisey, who is a contributor to our final competition anthology, Swan Song and a member of the Retreat West team!

Can you tell us a little about your story in the Swan Song anthology?

I am fond of stories that are narrowed down to one location and that play out in real time, and I liked the idea of a disparate group of people being in this hospital waiting room, slowly revealing themselves and different, often surprising, ways they got to be there. Circumstances in life are rarely as they seem, and this story throws up some shocks and, I hope, challenges perception.

What draws you to entering writing contests?

The money! No, seriously, I do enjoy the buzz around contests, and it’s a great way of honing your skills and improving. Nothing like a deadline to get the creative wheels turning.

Can you share some of your favourite writing influences with us?

My tastes and loves are not classical like a lot of writers. The novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King was a major influence on me as a writer. That story stayed with me long after I read it and the ending was sublime. I have always admired and envied Stephen King’s talent for creating fathoms-deep characters you care about and that you have to know what happens to at all costs.

Where can we find out more about you and your writing?

I have a website at http://debbivoisey.co.uk where you can find details of all my work, my creative writing workshops, and mentoring. I also tweet a little bit @DublinWriter