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

Cycle Of Love

I’ll never forget the day I put your favourite jeans on the wrong wash cycle — the ones you looked so wonderful in on our first date. The latest fad diet was never getting those worn again.

And the time you wanted to shrink into obscurity, when I got horrendous hiccups, as the vicar turned to the congregation and asked ‘that’ question at your sister’s wedding. 

Now I watch you lying in bed; your shrunken version that’s been forced upon us. And I think how beautiful you’d still look in those jeans.

And hate the different reason why they’d fit you.  

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

About the author: Julian Cadman. I live and work in Hampshire and took up Creative Writing as a hobby seven years ago. I particularly enjoy writing flash fiction and short stories.

My Name Was Different

I apologise to dad in the Arrivals Hall.

‘The flight was delayed. Hardly your fault, was it?’ He takes my backpack, saying, ‘That smell is familiar. How was Amsterdam?’

I describe cafés and riding bikes downhill without brakes. I don’t say that I arrived early at Schiphol, checked in, then fell asleep across metal chairs. Or that upon waking, my eyes opened directly into eyes the colour of Delft Blue, and we spoke fast, ignoring our lack of common language. Or that my name was different in Dutch, announced repeatedly by loudspeaker until I understood, rose and ran without turning.

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

About the author: Kate Coghlan is a freelance writer/editor with an MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths. Her work has been published by Mslexia, Loft Books, the Dulwich Festival, Spillwords, Visual Verse and the Personal Bests Journal. Twitter/X @Kate_Cogs


If, opening the fridge, you had noticed the last two eggs and decided to poach them, instead of cereal, or if I had not pointed out the baby sick stain on your shoulder, or if Eliza had not pleaded with you to hear her spellings, or if you had not paused to brush my hair off my tear-streaked face and tell me what a great job I was doing, then the woman who lost control of her Fiat Panda at 8.46am this morning would have ploughed into someone else’s life, and today would have been a day like any other.

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

About the author: Alison Wassell is a short story, flash and micro fiction writer from North West England.

Needs Must

We’re not sure who first came up with the idea, but we all applauded when the decision was made. We turned out with balloons, tight and shiny as blisters, the day the Pump was pieced together in the dead centre of town. Faced with the need for more and more sacrifices, the Pump has now streamlined the process. Of course, it takes at least two men to operate, three if there’s a struggle, and it isn’t without its heartbreak. But it’s efficient. There’s hardly any mess, now they’ve perfected the procedure. I’ve started a business selling earplugs, which is thriving. 

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

About the author: Katie Holloway writes tiny stories in the south of England. She is often tempted to uproot her family to go and live in a tree. Katie has received a DYCP grant from the Arts Council England, a nomination for the Pushcart prize, and the first prize in the 2023 Retreat West prize (flash fiction category). Katie tweets @KatieLHWrites