Archive for March, 2013

A few quotes for when things get long-winded

Posted in WRITING TOOLS AND TIPS with tags , , on March 21, 2013 by Richard Holt

Very short fiction celebrates the concise. Following, gleaned from a number of internet quotation archives, is what a range of writers and commentators have had to say on brevity.

It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn. ~Robert Southey

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. ~Thomas Jefferson

I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter. ~Blaise Pascal, Lettres Provinciales, 1657, translated from French

That writer does the most, who gives his reader the most knowledge, and takes from him the least time. ~Charles Caleb Colton

If any man will draw up his case, and put his name at the foot of the first page, I will give him an immediate reply. Where he compels me to turn over the sheet, he must wait my leisure. ~Lord Sandwich

If you can’t write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don’t have a clear idea. ~David Belasco

It wasn’t by accident that the Gettysburg address was so short. ~ Ernest Hemingway

I will be so brief I have already finished. ~ Salvador Dali

Brevity is the soul of wit. ~William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Brevity is the soul of lingerie. ~Dorothy Parker

Big Story Small on Twitter

Posted in NEWS & INFORMATION with tags , , on March 20, 2013 by Richard Holt

I’ve posted my first twitter-length story (linked in the twitter menu to the right) and will post new stories using this medium regularly, including earlier very short stories rewritten specifically for distribution on the twittersphere. Followers, of course, are welcome. Visit @bigstorysmall on Twitter or click the link in the Twitter menu.

Small Wonder: an anthology of prose poems and microfiction

Posted in REVIEWS with tags , , , on March 18, 2013 by Richard Holt

Small Wonder is perhaps the publication the Australian Writing and reading landscape needed in order to jolt it from expectations that had begun to weigh heavily on the creative energy of published short fiction. Focusing on very short stories (to 800 words) and prose poetry the collection demonstrates the potential of forms that have not been well supported or represented in mainstream journals and anthologies. This alone would make it a valuable contribution. But it should be judged, and in my opinion highly praised, as a collection of great writing that bounces the reader, like a fretful dream, between ideas and notions of reality.

The organisation of the stories, alphabetical by author, seemed uninspired, but the more I read the more I appreciated that stories like these organise themselves. There might be many groupings made but with such punchy pieces of writing that task occurs in consideration of the whole. So rather than attempt to regather the works in the groups that emerged for me I’ll respond as the writers appear in the book.

Dael Allison’s tropical prose poems kick the collection off. They evoke not only a ‘top end’ landscape but a sense of time and partly hidden lives that seems to emerge from that landscape.

A cluster of B’s demonstrate deviations from realism. Judith Beveridge’s ‘the Book of Birds, is classic magic realism, a simply told narrative that has, at its heart, a notion from beyond normal experience. Peter Boyle’s four pieces operate collectively as a meditation on the poetic. And Joanne burns’s ‘easy’ expands ideas cleverly from a single incident, a fall.

C brings us Michelle Cahill, in whose work the concept of magic realism is raised, but this time for the very real experience of childbirth and the biology and chemistry of parental love. John Carey’s, ‘Ivan’ is told with the detachment of a fairy tale. Echoes of the folk narratives that are a direct precursor for much contemporary very short fiction create the perfect storytelling voice for his simple tale. Shady Cosgrove’s ‘After School’ depicts a scene unfolding in an attic bedroom, with a protagonist’s virginity about to be lost to Isobel, whose parents are out and who knows what she’s doing. It’s a gem.

Moya Costello is the first of a number of writers whose works morph out of the act of list-making. It’s an effective tool for exploring ideas. Anna Couani’s first person reflection has the immediacy of autobiography against which the tawdry world of political paranoia forms a compelling backdrop.

Charles D’Anastasi was the winner of the competition from which about half the works in the anthology were chosen (the others being sourced from invited writers). His ‘Madame Bovary’ is a delightfully intimate piece in which the reader is taken, by the wandering mind of an audience member as poets read, into the carriage of one one of literature’s most familiar scenes. It is much more than an exercise in cleverness, though it is without doubt clever in an understated way.

There is no E in the author list. Much of what I enjoy about very short fiction is the gaps that such brevity requires. E is good. It leads me to…

Michael Farrell’s rambling interior monologue in which the ‘I’ of the author and the ‘you’ of the reader seem interchangeable and, in the end life goes on. Adam Ford’s ‘Sequel’ is sci-fi multiculturalism and hilarious to boot. It has the best opening line in the collection and never misses a beat.

The Gs, for some reason, seem bound by an interest in displacement, each beginning with travellers in foreign cities. Both Keri Goldsworthy’s pieces consider Australians abroad in Asia and the shifting geopolitics of our century. Monica Goldberg’s relocation is to old Europe where changes are also occurring against the long-cast shadow of 20th-Century conflicts.

Erin Gough’s ‘William Shatner vows to save the great basin pocket mouse,’ stood out as an example of how efficiently dialogue can tell a story. It’s a tool not exploited within micrifiction as often as it might be. And Gregory A Gould’s story of a stolen book is classic very short fiction, full of half-revealed meaning.

I have an affection for H’s. Phillip Hammial’s ‘Gold’ entices the reader by revealing the potential of a situation before it unfolds. Future tense seems particularly well suited microfiction. His ‘Milk’ is a curious glimpse into something much larger.

Stu Hatton’s pieces inhabit the dystopic norms of virtual and medically altered versions of perception.

There is no ‘I’ – yes, I know, that sounds like the coach of a sporting team – but there are great individual moments nevertheless. Carol Jenkins ponders evolution. Her pieces flirt with whimsy but are smart enough not to succumb.

Jo Langdon’s ‘Pause’ is as beautiful as very short fiction gets. Its gentle observation of a family in crisis and denial is masterfully told.

There are a cluster of ‘M’s beginning with two writers toying with text. Kent MacCarter’s ‘Light Foxing’ accelerates the deconstruction and deterioration of a print novel. Clare McHugh’s ‘Briefly’ adapts the brevity of very short fiction to mull over the cultural sensitivities around ‘shortness’.

Alyson Miller’s ‘Impossible’ is another meditation, this time on the existential conundrum. It is light and alluring even as the author grapples with certainty.

In Cara Munro’s ‘An arrangement’, old world traditions and patriarchy clash with the modernisation of societies. It is the author’s self-awareness of first world privilege that elevates this story.

It is apt that A S Patric, the first of the Ps, should evoke Emily Dickinson. He seems to revel in brevity and the story beyond what is written.

Ideas in Vivienne Plumb’s ‘Fish’ cascade, forming a kind of story that’s mostly gaps, like a scene glimpsed between the cars of a slowly passing train.

Aden Rolfe had me wandering a deserted coastline.

Michael Sharkey doesn’t say too much.

Laurie Steed’s stream of consciousness road trip dissects an unequal relationship and traverses vast distances between hope and reality.

W is as close to the end as we get, with Sean Wilson also choosing a road trip scenario, placing his reader in the car as a couple discuss their future. It’s a bit of a ‘drive off into the sunset’ finale.

Small Wonder is a smart piece of publishing. Black and white illustrations complement the written works. The layout makes the most of the brevity at the heart of the forms in the collection.

My only misgiving was minor, and more about personal taste than any obvious shortcomings in the selected works. I was a little frustrated that so many stories referenced literature and writing directly. Writing, after all, is always about writing, but writing about ‘writing’ risks disappearing into places the reader may not wish to follow.

But such criticism is nitpicking. Small Wonder shows the variety and vitality of microfiction and prose poetry and demonstrates that both forms, which sit very well together within the same volume, are thriving among Australian writers who appreciate the creative potential of the forms.

Small Wonder: an anthology of prose poems and microfiction, edited by Linda Godfrey and Julie Chevalier, Spineless Wonders, 2012.

The exquisite leaf

Posted in stories with tags , on March 18, 2013 by Richard Holt

Walter Chang knew, as soon as he opened the door, that they’d been again and they’d keep returning until they had what they were seeking. Not much was disturbed except the smell of the room. The teak shelves and cabinets that hid every inch of wall stood just as always and the tins and jars of tea of every exotic kind. There was a particular smell that came from the room being undisturbed at night and the first breath of it each morning was all he needed to get his aging bones through another day of measuring and tasting and selling.

He came as usual from the temple on the hill. As soon as he opened the shop door he knew the portents had been right. They’d been back.

Chang’s had survived through three generations, through revolutions, wars, extortion rackets, economic highs and lows and times when it seemed no one valued the teas upon his shelves and the business would die with its aging cutomers. But new generations discovered the subtle beauty and when they did Chang’s had always been there for those seeking the finest and the strangest.

Most of his teas were sold fresh or aged briefly. But there were a few that were kept like fine red wines. Some were pre-revolutionary, picked in the days of the Europeans, compressed into tight inky dark wheels like hashish and wrapped in leaves and string, they were the teas of connossiers, rare in every sense and extremely valuable.

Chang went to the safe. This time it had been opened. They’d taken some of his best. But they hadn’t found what they’d been after. The safe was his last line of protection. They would not be so discrete next time. Walter Chang felt beneath the countertop of a cabinet his great grandfather had made. He found the wooden latch that released the secret panel and the drawer within it. Inside was a centruy-old 24-inch wheel of the finest aged tea ever picked and pressed. It was the only one in existence, rumoured more than known. He knew exactly what he would do. He had been imagining this day. With the tea in a simple calico bag he headed for the train station. By afternoon he would be at the house of his most valued customer, Zhou Lu.

Zhou was a collector as well as an afficianado. He would pay any amount for the tea. But he would pay Walter only a cup made from a few of the leaves scraped from the edge of the wheel. They would drink together, for that was what tea was for. Then they’d re-wrap the wheel. Their single taste would suffice for the rest of their lives. For Walter that would not be so long, for that tea, his grandfather had told him, would be his family’s curse and their salvation. Zhou would see that Walter’s grand children, who drank only coffee and soft drinks and knew nothing of the exquisite leaf, would be well looked after. Walter would taste what had been forbidden so long and then he would be prepared for another life. This was how he had always known it would be.

A great resource for writers seeking publication

Posted in OPPORTUNITIES with tags , , on March 13, 2013 by Richard Holt

Flash Fiction Chronicles Flash Fiction Markets page is a fantastic resource. It’s comprehensive, kept up to date and features links to numerous projects, and publications that publish shorter forms of fiction. It’s also sorted by word length which makes it really easy to use.

Visit the Flash Fiction Chronicles and click the Flash Markets link on the main menu. While you’re at it also check out the site’s great writing, commentary and resources.

20 things I’ve learned about writing microfiction

Posted in WRITING TOOLS AND TIPS with tags , , on March 13, 2013 by Richard Holt

20 things I’ve learned about writing microfiction is a document created for workshops for microfiction writers. It represents some of the most important lessons I have learned as a writer of microfiction.

The Crimson Damselfly

Posted in stories with tags , on March 1, 2013 by Richard Holt

Maybe I’ll wait forever. Men come to me offering the world for my love. But I cannot truly love them. None of them has yet known the answer.

How do you make a Crimson Damselfly? I ask. The best say simply, give it wings, which is a good answer in the face of ignorance. Others check Google, but they won’t find out there. And there are those who say, hmmm, lets see. I know. Get a damselfly and then… and they perform the last bit. Whack. They have no idea.

Tony, at least, asked for time to find out so I spent a year with him until he gave up. I stayed with Serge too, travelling, always laughing. He promised he’d give me an answer by the end of the year. But the year came and went.


When I was a girl I’d creep to the den if Dad was down there. Even though I’d be as quiet as a mouse, and even though he never looked up or saw me, Dad would say, Nina, is that you?

I’d pull up the spare chair and watch as he worked away. Each fly would take him hours, binding, twisting, shaping, colouring. After all that work he might snag it first cast and lose it or fish all day with it and never catch a thing until he changed to a cheap one from the tackle shop. It didn’t matter to him. What mattered as he worked away, was that every river he’d ever fished came back to him and I’d sit in the shadow off to the side of his workbench while he painted pictures of beautiful wild places so vivid they invited me in. He’d time his stories to finish just as he was putting on the finishing touches. Then he’d hold his delicate lure against the light and say, see, Nina, the secret is to think like a fish. That’s how you make a Crimson Damselfly.

I know I’ll always be a trout fisher’s daughter, happy alone in the flow of a stream. And the best times I’ll ever have are past me already, in the clutter of our suburban basement with my quiet, methodical father and the stories of the rivers of his mind.

The turtle and the crow

Posted in stories with tags , on March 1, 2013 by Richard Holt

‘Two brothers were returning to their people’s land and they stopped at a beach to catch turtles rather than arrive without gifts. One of the boys was hard-working and patient. He built a clever trap and waited all night. Just before dawn a good-sized turtle fell into his trap. He tied the turtle up so he could carry it back to his people.

The other boy was lazy. His trap was made badly. As soon as he’d finished it he fell asleep. At daybreak he woke to find his trap washed away by the tide. So he waited until his brother was away collecting fresh water. Then he stole the boy’s turtle and walked off with it. A crow had been watching from a gum tree above. It flew down and took the form of an old woman who appeared on the track in front of the lazy boy.

‘That’s a good turtle,” she said. “Did you catch it yourself?’

‘Yes,’ said the boy.

‘That’s good,’ said the old woman. Because in this valley a person who takes something that is not theirs will be banished forever.’

The boy wasn’t scared of the woman’s threats. Yes, he had stolen the turtle, but he was just passing through and he didn’t mind being banished because he never wished to return anyway. So he laughed and turned away, ready to leave.

‘And if they are so arrogant as to steal something else and take it from here the penalty is worse. They’ll be forced to scavenge forever for their living, taking only the scraps that have been left behind by others.’

‘The boy laughed again at the old woman, hoisted the turtle on his back, and began striding away. ‘

‘How did you catch it?’ the old woman called after him.

The lazy, stupid boy stopped and, putting the turtle down again, he turned back to her. He told her proudly how he’d dug a deep trap which he’d watched all night until just before dawn when the big turtle had headed up the beach and as soon as it fell into his trap he raced out and quickly tied it up.

He was just finishing his story when he was surprised to see the old lady’s back bend and her curly black hair flatten. She was changing back into a crow. ‘So that’s your story?’ she said, before her mouth became pointed and too hard to make words.

He realised too late that it wasn’t his story at all; he’d taken that just like he’d taken the turtle. He went to pick up the turtle and run but when he reached down his hands were covered in feathers. A moment later the good brother came around the corner of the track. All he saw was his turtle on the ground and a pair of crows dancing either side.