During 2019, I'll be publishing a showcase blog post on the first Monday of every month. As a writer, I read as much as I possibly can and, since I am currently focusing on short fiction, this means that I am discovering loads of brilliant pieces that can be devoured in a quick five minutes during a lunch break or perused when you're travelling home on the bus.
To misquote Benjamin Franklin, nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. I thought that a whole showcase dedicated to filling out tax returns probably wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. But the subject of our mortality and the filament thread of our journey from cradle to grave is so varied in its possible artistic interpretations that it felt like a good place to start the year. Far from being gloomy, such writing can be full of subtle humour. It can tug on the heartstrings or make us question our choices. It allows a chance for lyrical imagery and expansive narrative. And all of the pieces that I have picked out tackle the topic in brilliant, original ways. They are all wonderfully unique and I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have.
First up, a mesmerising piece of flash fiction by Janice Leagra. I love the way that she encapsulates a whole life from beginning to end in such an innovative way. There is a persistent rhythm to this piece that builds and builds towards its heartbreaking conclusion. The number of layers within the story is staggering as it manages to portray the essence of a mother-daughter relationship, the insecurities of the speaker etc. and explore aspects of what should/shouldn't be important in modern day life:
If you enjoyed that, Janice has published many other wonderful stories and also creates brilliant digital collages. You can find her on Twitter @JaniceLeagra
Next, a story from Josh Jones that absolutely fizzes with originality. From its opening line ( “Zara has backward parents, their nightclothes always mixed up”), it constantly subverts the reader's expectations. Just like Janice's story, there are so many layers to un-peel - the complexity of playground relationships, how a child's perspective on death differs to that of a grown-up:
To find out more about Josh, visit his website. He tweets @jnjoneswriter
Since most topics (especially one as inescapable as death) have been tackled many times over, one of the things that I find really important when writing is to identify a unique angle. This might be in exploring the subject from a new perspective or encasing it in an interesting stylistic form. What I really like about this next story by Danny Beusch is that he has travelled a well-worn path but made subtle changes to the expected cast of characters. I love the way that Danny creates a sense of absence and completely inhabits the voice of his narrator. And it's well worth a second read once you've finished it to notice all the clever elements that you might have missed on the first read through:
Danny can be found on Twitter @OhDannyBoyShhh
I've read this next story several times over and I can definitely say that it's as wonderful on the fifteenth read as it was on the first. Kevy is part of my critique group (@BBludgers) and I've really enjoyed seeing the evolution of this piece. Just like in Danny and Josh's stories, this explores death and mortality from a child's perspective. It also makes the reader question their own choices and what is really important in life. There is a clarity of language in Kevy's writing and I love the way he has captured the essence of childhood innocence:
Kevy has his own writing website and has an enthusiastic Twitter presence @KevyWatt
All writing is lifted when it is infused with contrasts and contradictions. Just as comic writing benefits from splashes of sadness, writing based around more serious tones can often be lifted by glints of humour. All of the above pieces demonstrate how effective this can be but this next story really revels in the juxtaposition of death and a darkly comic undertone. Just in the first paragraph, a Ming dynasty replica urn is cuttingly described as “a thrilling bargain” and a funeral director tells the narrator that scattering ashes within a National Trust property's ground is “not great for the next person who wants a picnic.” Elaine Chiew maintains this tone right through to her story's conclusion as she portrays the strained relationship of a woman and her newly cremated mother:
You can follow Elaine on Twitter @ChiewElaine
A poem from Helen Laycock to end with. It is a clever, thought-provoking contemplation of how we are destroying the earth for future generations. It is framed both in terms of a child yet to come into the world and with reference to bequeaths and inheritance form those that have departed. I really like the rhythm of the piece with its internal rhymes and its images of a broken Earth “whose bones we have picked and whose flesh we have stripped”:
Helen has written many other beautiful poems that you can find on her website. Her Twitter handle is @helen_laycock
That's your lot for this month, folks! Next month, I'll be showcasing brilliant pieces that demonstrate what can be achieved when fusing different genres to the flash fiction mould.
If you've enjoyed the above six wonderful stories/poems by Elaine, Helen, Janice, Danny, Josh and Kevy, please leave a comment below to show your appreciation.