Lorraine Mace is a columnist with Writing Magazine and deputy editor and writing agony aunt for Words with JAM. Winner of the Petra Kenney International Poetry Award (comic verse category), she writes fiction for the women’s magazine market, features for monthly magazines and is a writing competition judge for Writers’ Forum. Lorraine, a tutor for Writers Bureau, is the co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam, of The Writer’s ABC Checklist (Accent Press). She runs the quarterly Flash500 competition.
I have long had a love affair with writing flash fiction, but when it came to entering competitions the prize money always seemed to be very low. After hunting around, trying to find a competition paying decent prizes (and finding very few) I decided to launch one myself. Since then a few other competitions have added a flash element to their regular categories, so I’m hoping flash fiction is at last getting the recognition it deserves.
Even though I judge writing competitions for other organisations, because I know so many good writers, and obviously wanted them to enter without fear of anyone thinking there was any favouritism attached to the judging process, I decided that I couldn’t judge the Flash 500 competition. I have arranged independent judges – a different one for each quarter. This quarter the judge is Iain Pattison, who also judges the Writers Bureau annual short story competition (amongst many others).
What’s so appealing about the flash fiction form?
I love the challenge of the medium. People think it’s easy, but it isn’t. You have to encapsulate an entire story in so few words – not an anecdote or character sketch, but a complete tale. I think it’s one of the hardest types of fiction to master – in a way it’s almost a prose form of poetry. In flash fiction, more than any other type of fiction, every word counts and you can’t afford to squander any on non-essential phrases.
Which flash writers / flash stories do you particularly like? Can you recommend some?
Most of the flash fiction I’ve read and enjoyed has been that of various competition winners. I’ve read some astounding stories where the author has won less than the price of a meal in a restaurant – which makes me pretty mad because I know how much effort goes into writing a prize-winning piece of flash.
I am hoping to interest a publisher in producing a book incorporating the winning and placed stories from my competition. The authors would, of course, be entitled to a pro-rata royalty payment – but the plan is only at the ‘working idea’ stage at present.
How can entering competitions benefit writers?
Quite apart from the financial benefit of winning or being placed, there is the additional advantage of being able to mention the success on your writing CV. Even if you don’t win, making the shortlist of one of the better paying competitions is always worth boasting about.
The other main benefit is writing to a deadline. The writing muscle is like any other, it needs regular exercise. If you decide to enter a competition, you have to come up with a unique idea, write the story, rewrite the story, revise the rewritten story and then rewrite again – all by a set date. There is no point entering a first or even second draft, so the writing muscle should get plenty of work before you hit the ‘send’ button.
Anything you can tell us about previous winners? Any success stories?
The competition only started this year, so is still in its infancy, but the winners so far (including some of those placed or shortlisted) have said that they feel validated as writers. Their success in the Flash 500 competition has encouraged them to enter other competitions and also to submit stories to magazines, e-zines and anthologies.
Flash 500 also offers a critiquing service, can you tell us a bit about it? Obviously feedback for writers is a good thing, how can it help?
Whenever I enter a competition myself, I always take advantage of the critique service if one is offered. I feel that getting an independent assessment of my story’s strengths and weaknesses is invaluable. Writers often develop a word blindness where their own work is concerned.
For the above reason I decided to offer optional critiques to entrants. I am a Writers Bureau tutor, a judge for the monthly Writers’ Forum short story competition (where I also provide critiques for entrants), am on Writelink’s professional critique panel and also run a private tutoring and critique service, so it seemed logical to offer my critiquing experience to entrants of my own competition.
Each critique for the Flash 500 competition is made up of the original text marked up with comments and suggestions for improvement, together with a covering letter dealing with presentation, title, opening, dialogue, characterisation, ending and an overall assessment.
Thanks for the interview, Lorraine.