Love (requited and unrequited), romantic relationships in all their many forms, longing glances, first kisses, behind-bike-shed fumbles, one night stands, long standing affairs, lovers' tiffs, infidelity, break-ups and heartbreak have been a constant theme in the storyteller's repertoire since the very first story was told around a Neanderthal campfire several thousand years ago. From "Pyramus and Thisbe" to "Aucassin and Nicolette" to "Romeo and Juliet", "Far From the Madding Crowd" to "Love in the Time of Cholera" to "Enduring Love" to (dare I say it) "Fifty Shades of Grey", writers have been finding a different spin on the theme for quite a few years. And since the way we go about affairs of the heart has changed so dramatically in the last century or so, there are now even more angles for a writer to tackle.
I often find that writing about relationships can lurch quite easily into cliché - "her heart skipped a beat", "he felt a stirring in his loin", "it was love at first sight", "she was swept off her feet", "she took his breath away", "they lived happily ever after" etc. But these don't really portray the emotions that we (as actual human beings with complex personalities) experience when we meet someone new, get to them know them, start to ask ourselves whether they're the one for us, whether the butterflies in our stomach represent a nascent sense of love or if they're due to the seafood risotto we had for dinner.
The six pieces of flash fiction that I have picked out for this month's showcase blog all deal with relationships and love in clever, interesting and masterful ways without resorting to cliché.
My previous showcase blog was all about pieces that broke the mould in some way. And I'm starting this one in a similar vein. This story by Monica Dickson uses receipts as a framing device. Each one acts as a sub-title for a new section of the story and in a really clever, economical way shows place and time. There is a wonderful bite to Monica's writing. The narrator falling for the anonymous man unfolds through perceptive observations ("You say ridiculous things like you could turn a guy’s head and I don’t sneer.") and there are some lovely splashes of humour. I'm in awe of how much story is told in such a small number of words:
According to Twitter, Monica can be found "on the Leeds side streets". She tweets as @Mon_Dickson and has her own website.
Next up, another story that features doughnuts(!) and deals with a less plain-sailing aspect of romantic relationships. From its first line, the narrative is peppered with wonderful images - "The two women with blood sprinklers in their eyes", "throwing petulant fountains of oyster salt over the groynes", "Her cheeks were purple pomegranate" - that paint a picture of what is happening both above and below the surface, the landscape reflecting the inner emotions of Marie, the bride-to-be:
You can follow Tomas on Twitter @TJMarcantonio
Just as Tomas' story, above, has a wonderful lyrical feel to it, this piece by Cath Barton is similarly poetical. The title "The Man I Am Not Marrying" has a rhythm to it and provides a brilliant hook to reel the reader in. Every sense - taste, touch, sound, sight, smell - is catered for. With each sentence, Cath builds up a sense of wistfulness for the people who will not be there at the narrator's wedding - her mother and the man-she-is-not-marrying. I love how Cath juxtaposes past and present, wedding-day flowers in the narrator's hair versus threaded seaweed when she and the man-she-is-not-marrying "rolled like pups" on the beach:
Cath has written a fantastic novella "The Plankton Collector" which also has beaches and seaweed at its heart. She is on Twitter @CathBarton1 and has her own website.
Stories about relationships often focus on the big momentous things - the first meetings, the marriages, the fights, the break-ups - but the small moments can be just as powerful. Take this piece of flash fiction by Jo Gatford, for example. It describes a car journey where "the absence of conversation has become a vacuum." Every sentence has layers of meaning beneath it. A face "crosshatched with streetlamp shadows" suggests a complexity of character. Correcting "the left-drifting bias" seems to refer to steering the relationship as much as to steering the car. A sense of longing and desire is expertly built up in a journey that takes in past, present and future:
Jo is on Twitter @jmgatford and has her own website where you can find out more about her book "White Lies".
The spluttering beginnings of relationships, their hiccoughs and the bumps along the road provide a lot of material for writers. But there is also a mine of stories about what happens when a relationship ends. Any story which starts with a "coat rack that ... dance[s the protagonist] across the room to the salsa beat of her Argentine roots" is surely worth a moment of your time. And there are plenty of further humorous touches in this piece by Jayne Martin. It is a really imaginative exploration of the different aspects of love - duty, passion, frustration, submission are all correct and present along with all those peripheral things like "dirty diapers" and "meal making" and "knitted gloves that had lost their mates":
You can find more of Jayne's flash fiction via her blog and she has a collection coming out from Vine Leaves Press in December. She is on Twitter @Jayne_Martin
My final story for this month came second in the TSS Flash Fiction competition in Autumn 2018. And it's easy to see why it did so well. It has all the elements that I would look for when judging a competition - brilliant writing, a strong narrative, originality, touches of humour, a great sense of characterisation and a powerful emotion core. I love the way Alicia infuses a subtle sense of bitterness into her writing - "Alphabetically listed, one cleanskin after another, all loving, all much loved, all greatly missed." I love the little details that move the narrative forward but also give a sense of the dead man's character - the presence of salmon and cucumber sandwiches when he "couldn't stand fish." What I love most, though, is how this story resounds in your head after you've finished reading :
Alicia is on Twitter @lissybakewell
That's it for another month. If that selection of stories has taught me anything it's to cherish any good relationships that come along (romantic or otherwise) and to avoid clichés at all costs! Next month, I'll be delving into stories that demonstrate brilliant tone of voice or sense of place.
If you've enjoyed the above six wonderful stories by Alicia, Cath, Jayne, Jo, Monica and Tomas please leave a comment below to show your appreciation.