All about FlashBack Fiction

Prague Astronomical Clock

FlashBack Fiction editors, Anita Goveas, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, Emily Devane, Sharon Telfer and Damhnait Monaghan are attending this year’s Flash Fiction Festival, June 28-30th and some of them are running a session about the magazine and what they are looking for in submissions. Historical flash fiction is surging in popularity and as well as this session on Sunday afternoon, Nuala 0’Connor who writes short and longer historical fiction is repeating the very popular session she ran last year.

Anita Goveas

  • You’re giving a workshop at the Flash Fiction Festival. Can you tell us a bit about that?
  • Several of the FlashBack editors will discuss various aspects of writing and publishing historical flash, and provide a few writing exercises so that participants can leave with ideas or even perhaps a rough draft of a historical flash fiction. There will be time for discussion during the session, so by all means, bring any questions you might have!

  • How did FlashBack Fiction start?
  • Sharon Telfer

    In December 2017 a group of writers who had published historical flash were included in a Twitter conversation about what journals out there publish historical flash. Realising that there was a gap in the market, we decided we might as well start one. By January 2018 we had opened for submissions and we’ve never looked back. There are seven of us on the FlashBack Fiction editorial board: Ingrid Jendrezjewski, Kellie Carle, Emily Devane, Anita Goveas, Damhnait Monaghan, Sharon Telfer, and Judi Walsh. We also have to mention Chris Drew who was a founding member and made invaluable contributions to the project during our first year.

    Ingrid Jendrzejewski

    We’re only in our second year, but we feel we are already punching above our weight. We nominate for prizes such as Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, the Biffy 50, and Best Microfictions. Three FlashBack pieces will be published in the first Best Microfiction anthology, and also one from our Editor, Ingrid Jendrzejewski in Best Small Fictions. We have also recently received a special mention in the Saboteur Awards, 2019.
  • What about your process – give us a behind the scenes peek at how you work.
  • Kellie Carle

    This is very much a collaborative project. Our editorial team is comprised of writers with varied interests and backgrounds; one commonality is an interest in historical flash fiction. We read all submissions blind and give each one careful consideration; at least three people read every story that is submitted, and if your piece is accepted, it’s likely that all seven of us have read it and discussed it at length, both in terms of its strength as a piece of writing and its fit with the other stories we’ve published and plan to publish. For that reason, we take a bit more time than some journals, but we aim to reply to all submissions within three months (and are often much quicker).

    Judi Walsh

    We can’t give feedback on every submission: there simply isn’t the time, given the volume of submissions we receive. However, we do try to give comments where we can if we think this would help fine tune a story. Sometimes we will work with an author to help them polish their piece with a view to publication.

    Damhnait Monaghan

    Once we’ve accepted a piece, we invite the author to record the story and answer some interview questions. Neither of these are required, but we find readers often love the opportunity to engage with a story – and the story behind the story – in these ways.

    We publish one piece of historical flash, prose poetry, or hybrid each week. The story appears on a Monday and an accompanying interview with the writer appears on the Friday. We think the interview is a great way to expand that little bit more on the world created by each piece.

  • How do you define historical flash fiction?
  • Emily Devane

    We purposefully leave the boundaries of what we deem ‘historical’ quite vague; we recognise that one person’s history is another person’s childhood. We lean away from pieces that read as memoir from the point of view of a contemporary narrator, that are purely retellings of fairy tales, and that are straight-up fantasy as we feel there are plenty of other markets that cater for this work. We look for a piece to suggest a specific time and place, and for that time and place to be vital to the story in some way. However, we are open to exploring many different interpretations of what this means; we’re open to magical realism, prose poetry, hybrid work, and all manner of experiment and play as well as more traditional approaches. We want to be part of the dialogue about what historical fiction – and historical flash fiction in particular – can be.

  • What are you looking for in a submission? Are there any particular areas of history you’d like to see covered in a submission? Is there a particular format or type of piece you’d like to see more of?
  • Take us somewhere and somewhen we haven’t been before! Our published stories are listed in a timeline on our website and there is a massive gap between 12C BCE and 1577. We’d love to see more stories from outside Europe and the US. We set out to create a positive, inclusive space that celebrates strong writing and reflects a diverse range of time periods, locations, events, people, cultures, and social backgrounds.

    We love traditional storytelling, but we’d also love to see more experimental or playful work. Hybrid pieces and prose poetry are very welcome, as are more unusual formats – if you have a historical flash in the form of a letter, diary entries, will, list, or some other non-traditional format, we’d love to take a look.
    Also, more humour would be great. Yes, history can be grim, but we’re pretty sure people laughed in the olden days too!
    In general, we’re interested in work that helps fill in some of the gaps in our history books and/or challenge assumptions about the past, and/or that questions and explores what historical short form writing can be.

  • What are some of the reasons why you might not accept a piece?
  • Declining work is one of the parts of the job we hate most, and it’s not something we do lightly. However, with a limited number of slots per year, we often find ourselves having to make hard decisions. Here are some of the most common reasons we might pass on a piece.

    It’s too long: Our word limit is 500 words. We allow a little leeway, but if it’s too long, it won’t be read.
    It’s not ready: we see many stories that feel a few brave edits away from brilliance. Your chances of acceptance will increase exponentially if you edit and fine tune before you submit.
    It isn’t historical: stories must ‘engage with the historical in some way’. We have turned down strong stories that don’t feel historical or could be set somewhere in the world today; just adding a quill pen to a story that could otherwise be set in almost any time isn’t likely to be a good fit. We like pieces where the historical context is intrinsic to the story in some way (even if it’s a very quiet, subtle way).

    It’s been covered: Because we are a specialist magazine, with a limited number of available ‘slots’ we have to think carefully about the magazine as a whole, and that timeline. There are some topics we see again and again (death in childhood, nuns, accused witches). Wow us with something new (but, you know, old) and original.

    It doesn’t chime: We don’t all like the same stories; that would be boring! But you need to make at least one of us editors love your story if we’re going to publish it. While we all have different tastes, in general, our team as a whole tends to steer away from twist endings, pieces that read like memoir, straight history-lesson re-tellings of a historical moment, or pieces crammed so full of historical references that it’s hard to find the story. Often, successful pieces wear their research lightly, and take us on a journey narratively, emotionally or otherwise.

  • You feature an audio recording of your stories. Why do you do that and what do you think it adds?
  • We love our audio feature and our readers (er, listeners) also seem to, based on the feedback we receive on Twitter. Like many things at FlashBack Fiction, it developed spontaneously. Our editor in chief was discussing the cadence of a piece with its author and we realised that we all really wanted to hear the piece how the author intended it to be read. Because we have an international readership and love publishing stories from all over the world, we think being able to hear each piece can add another dimension to the story. And importantly, it helps make our stories more accessible.

  • You ran a successful micro competition to commemorate the First World War. Do you have any plans for further competitions?
  • Yes! We were thrilled with both the quality and number of submissions in our competition. Unsurprisingly, given the topic, many of the pieces were deeply moving, and it was incredibly hard to choose the winners. We are planning to hold another micro competition this autumn; check our website and Twitter feed later in the year for details.

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