Tag Archives: flash fiction

A Dish Best Served Cold

Well, my poor old attempt at flash fiction didn’t make the shortlist for the inaugural Reflex Fiction competition. Boo! But on the plus side, I get to publish it here instead. Hurrah!



Marcus watches as the plate is lowered to the starched cotton tablecloth. F. G. Fotheringale peers at it over his spectacles and scratches a few words in his notebook. The pen moves swiftly left to right, underlining something.

Marcus wonders what it is. “Elegant,” perhaps, or “sophisticated.” But no, knowing F. G. Fotheringale it will be something he’s never heard of, a French term that Marcus would have had to look up to know whether it was good or bad. Not that he’ll need to this time: this review will never be written.

The waiter is at Marcus’s shoulder, presenting his identical plate in precisely the same way, pointing with a neat fingernail to the silky slices of fugu (“prepared with the greatest care by Mr. Blackwood himself”) the glistening pools of plum sauce that Marcus knows already will be the perfect consistency, the delicate shiso leaves adding colour.

The envy tastes like vinegar.

At the next table, F. G. Fotheringale picks up his chopsticks. A few seconds more and he’ll capture a sliver of fugu, dip it in that piquant sauce. How long, Marcus wonders, before Fotheringale’s lips start to tingle, before his vision blurs? Will he look up then and see Marcus sitting there? Will he have time to regret the words that have led to this moment?

“Pedestrian.”“ Prosaic.” “Passé.” Each one an alliterative dagger to Marcus’s soul.

Fotheringale deserves this, and Blackwood too. Walking out like that, as if he owed Marcus nothing. After all those years of training, of patience. Of friendship.

The sous chef had been easy to persuade: a droplet of pufferfish poison added discreetly to Fotheringale’s sashimi. He’s been slipping the mortadella to Maria Blackwood and believes he’ll take over the restaurant when her husband’s reputation is ruined. He’s not the sharpest knife in the block.

Marcus smiles as he lifts his own chopsticks to his mouth. Delicious: he can see why the Japanese take the risk. His eyes meet Fotheringale’s as he chews.

But what is this? The sous chef is at the kitchen door, waving, frantic. Marcus freezes, his chopsticks in mid-air.

He presses a finger to his tingling lips.



Flash fiction – or when size really does matter


So I made my first attempt to write some flash fiction the other day. It was a competition entry – Reflex Fiction’s inaugural contest, which closes for submissions on 28 February if you fancy entering (details here) – and with a top prize of £100, I hoped optimistically to put a dent in the bill for the astonishingly expensive replacement tap I’ve just had to buy for our downstairs loo. Well, you never know. And inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes, right?

Except that was my first problem. How do you pick a topic for flash fiction?

The competition in question has strict parameters for word count: no fewer than 180 words and no more than 360. I’d never tried to write a story that short – the first draft of my last novel came in at over 150,000 words, so it seemed likely I’d find this a bit of a challenge.

A few years ago I went along to a London Writers’ Café workshop where the guest speaker was renowned author of short stories, Zoe Fairbairns. The most famous of her works is “Bus Ticket”, and she maintained that successful short story ideas often focussed on a single, small object.

The thing is, “Bus Ticket” is one of Ms Fairbairns’ shortest stories (and I’m far too scared to get her title wrong after reading it). It comes in at 756 words – more than twice the flash fiction limit. And a bus ticket is pretty small – as far as I can remember, anyway; it’s all contactless and Oystercards in London these days.

So how could I downsize from there? A postage stamp, perhaps? A button? Reasonable enough, but if everyone else was taking the same advice, those nice people at Reflex Fiction were going to be reading a lot of stories about philately and dressmaking.

I’m not sure I follow the logic that physical size has to matter here. Surely it’s the size of the idea, whatever it’s based on, that has to be manageable enough for the word count restrictions?

Then I wondered whether genre might be a factor. Would it be easier to pack the drama into a teeny tiny ghost story, say, or a murder mystery?

I tried looking at flash fiction websites to see if there were any themes. And guess what? There weren’t.

There were fantasies, and stream-of-consciousness pieces, and a rather beautiful story  about telepathy.  There were all kinds of different subjects and styles – which didn’t help at all but which was somehow reassuring in a funny kind of way.

At least I couldn’t get it wrong just by picking the wrong topic.

So I had a go, and while I doubt the resulting effort is really going to help with that new tap, I had fun doing it. Watch this space for the results as soon as I find I haven’t made the longlist. And I might give flash fiction another go one of these days – though I will have to live with that Queen song running through my head every time I think of it…

FLASH! Ah-ahh…