Like Spinach, Flash Fiction is Good For You – David Gaffney Interview

I’m thrilled to welcome flash fiction writer and novelist David Gaffney to my blog today, to talk about, well, a whole manner of stuff, including why flash fiction is like cooked spinach and getting to the point of the chase. And sandwiches made by your dad.

Welcome to the blog, David. You have a new collection of flash fiction out, Aromabingo – can you tell us a little about it?

Aromabingo came out in hard back last year and now the paperback is just out. It’s a follow up to sawn off tales, which was my collection of ultra-short fiction – stories all exactly 150 words long ( count them, its true as long as you allow me a hyphen  in the word pop-tart) Aromabingo  is one third flash fiction, one third slightly longer pieces and one third even longer than that. I’ve divided the sections like old vinyl records – 45s, 12 inch singles, and LPs.


I read and enjoyed your debut collection, Sawn-off Tales, how does the new book compare?

The themes are my usual stuff: weird people in humdrum worlds, humdrum people in weird worlds, weird people in weird worlds, and a few humdrum people in humdrum worlds (but not so many like that). A couple of the longer stories maybe feel a little more serious, possibly just because they are longer. I only publish longer ones when I have completely failed to find a way to cut them right down as I do prefer ultra short; but longer stories have the advantage of allowing the reader to relax a bit more and settle into the fictional world. In flash fiction you never get time to kick your shoes off and pour a glass of wine.


What, in your opinion, is flash fiction?

It’s stories of less than 500 words I’d say.  Maybe flash is a male thing like minimalism -there are no cushions or scented candles in flash fiction, it’s all barebones and getting right down to the nitty gritty. When people go shopping in flash fiction story they buy only essentials, things they are going to need for the next few hours. I see flash as concentrated injections of pure distilled reality. I read an article recently comparing sandwiches from different shops; a Marks and Spencer’s sandwich was like one made by a posh chef, whereas a sandwich from Boots was like one your mother would make. Well if flash fiction was a sandwich it would be the sort of sandwich made by your dad, complete with thumb prints –  and definitely no salad. In fact, to continue the food theme, making flash fiction stories is like cooking spinach;  you fill a pan with enough leaves to feed an elephant then after a few minutes all you have left is a coating of thin green sludge on the bottom. But don’t worry – its incredibly tasty. Flash fiction, like spinach is very, very good for you.


And what makes good flash fiction?

Flash fiction don’t just cut to the chase, it cuts to the point of the chase, hitting you with a powerful one off injection of ideas and emotions which flood the mind and leave you reeling. But the problem is with this intensity is you often need a break from reading. A few flash fictions in a row might amaze and delight – one after another and you feel like you’ve been run over by lorry full of fridges. I think that really good flash has a kind of formal and emotional exactness. You can find yourself lost in these frozen little shards of time, and you hold your breath, suspended between an endless known  moment and an endless unknown future. That’s why I love them. A good piece of flash may seem innocent on the surface but glows from the inside with secret menace. I think that flash fiction sometimes has more in common with text art than literature; people like David Shrigley, or graphic novel/comic books artists like David Frith with his Salad Fingers series. And why not celebrate short things? Short songs have always been the greatest – Blitzkrieg Bob rather than Pink Floyd, that’s what I say.


What’s your writing process?

I type, but I hold a pen at the same time. Holding a pen helps you think. I recommend it. Long hand is good too. I wrote a lot of my recent set of stories – 24 stories about the M62 motorway between Liverpool and Hull – longhand in cafes then typed them up later. I tend to write longer and then edit down, I have never written a short piece and stretched it out, I’m not sure I could do that.

I have an ideas folder where I put all my rough sketches for stories and there’s a lot of stuff in there, so I never really have to start with a blank page. In fact I would recommend never starting with a blank page, even if you have a pick a bit of paper up off the street that someone else has written on, like a shopping list,  its better than starting blank. I once found a torn piece of card which turned out to be the packaging off something called Party-Feet – sticky plastic pads you wear in high heeled shoes to make them comfortable to dance in. On the back someone had drawn a map showing how to get to the railway station from their house. This was a short story nearly written out for me!  All I had to so was fill in the gaps. Or not. Gaps are good in short stories aren’t they?  The devil is in the detail, but God is in the gaps.


It’s been a couple of years since Sawn-off Tales was published, have you noticed any shift in the public perception of flash fiction in that time?

I think that there has been more interest in flash over the last few years. I get asked to do a lot of workshops on flash fiction and there are loads of web mags and print mags publishing it. However I don’t think flash fiction is ever going to be up there with longer short stories – the 3 – 5 thousand worders. Those stories are the competition winners,  those stories are the big hitters. I think us flash fiction people are doing something a little different.


I’m assuming you’ll have been asked what most short fiction writers are asked: Are you working on a novel? What’s your standard response to that?

I’ve already published a novel called Never Never. It’s out on Tindal Street Press – and it’s about people with debts biting back. It’s set in West Cumbria and is a comic thriller (or a thrilling comic, whichever you think sounds best). However, I prefer writing short fiction  because of the sense of elation you get every few days when you finish a story – with a novel, it feels like your acting out the sex life of some withered-up cactus that flowers every  two years for five minutes, and even then waits till your down at the betting shop.


Tell us about you. Who is David Gaffney?

I’m a man without a hat, but with glasses and a coat.


What’s next for you?

I have a new collection of short fiction out in June on Salt called the Half life of songs, and a  novel half-written which is about some bailiffs who write a stage musical about Mott the Hoople and take it to the Edinburgh festival. The last part will be based on my experience of taking my show, Destroy PowerPoint, to the Edinburgh festival this year. I also have a project at the Poole Literature Festival coming up called The Poole Confessions which consists of people in Poole telling me their secret confessions which I then turn into short stories and read to the public in a mobile confessional box which will tour Poole in 2010. The public will decide on a penance for each of the confessional stories and the penances along with the final stories will be published at the end of the festival.


Anything you’d like to add?

Check my website for more stuff is all I would say

David Gaffney is from Manchester. He is the author of Sawn Off Tales (Salt 2006), Aromabingo (Salt 2007), Never Never (Tindal Street 2008),  Buildings Crying Out a story using lost cat posters (Lancaster litfest 2009), 23 Stops To Hull stories about junctions on the M62 (Humbermouth festival 2009)  Rivers Take Them  a set of short operas with composer Ailis Ni Riain (BBC Radio Three 2008.) andDestroy PowerPoint, stories in PowerPoint format (Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2009) and In 2010 The Poole Confessions, short stories based on the confessions of people form Poole and delivered in a mobile confessional box at Poole Literature Festival,  and The Half Life of Songs a  new collection of shorts on SALT press.


And if anyone would like to buy themselves a copy of Sawn-off Tales WITH a 30% DISCOUNT, they should go here and enter this code: GM36ne27

4 Comments on “Like Spinach, Flash Fiction is Good For You – David Gaffney Interview

  1.  by  Vanessa Gebbie

    Fantastic stuff, Nik. It's nice to 'meet' David. I enjoy his work very much, and he is one of the generous contributors to Short Circuit. Lots of good luck with all the projects, David…the Poole one sounds a gas.

  2.  by  alisonwells

    Really enjoyed this. Fab descriptions of what flash fiction is and does.

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