The Long and Short of It, Session 1: It went in a flash!

A middle-aged Caucasian woman with short blond hair, wearing long multi-coloured beads and a floral headress. She is looking up to the left-hand corner of the frame, wearing a cheeky grin.

Electra Rhodes

A middle aged woman with curly auburn hair stands in front of the tree and looks thoughtfully into the middle distance.

Jupiter Jones







Just like a piece of flash, the session was compressed with wisdom about writing and enjoying this difficult but rewarding form. Electra’s ‘In Momma’s Shoes’ packed such a punch in three short paragraphs. Who knew that everything about child neglect and poverty could be contained in a 300 word capsule of flash – travelling at speed to the pinpoint precision (quite literally) of the end.

Electra gave us 11 quickfire features of the short, compressed narrative that is flash:

  • Under 1,000 words
  • Distinctive form – hermit crabs, for instance, are flashes made of different forms such as menus or surveys
  • The title really works, doing the heavy lifting
  • Compression and intensity
  • Language that is tight, bright and right
  • Like the after-image of a camera/phone flash
  • Use of image, metaphor, archetypal trope, fable and fairy tale to draw in extra layers of meaning
  • An ending that lands – if a story is like sewing, this is the thread pulled taut with a twang
  • Experimental
  • Plot involves a shift of some kind
  • Lots of stuff happens off the page

Like a balloon, you feel your way to the right length of the thing, containing just the right amount of air. Electra advises ‘Start late and get out as early as you can!’ Look for a chewy satisfying landing . It is the briefest invitation into a world, requiring intimacy to ‘read’ the space between the lines and off the page, to let go and trust the reader will get it.

Flash is thriving, many anthologies to read full of wonderful examples of form, style and length – and infiltrating other forms with its fracture, compression and oomph!

A final tip that stays with me: read it out loud, record it, play it back in your own and different voices, then you will see what lands, the final form. When you write something and someone else gets it, it is just the best feeling.

As Electra and Jupiter both say, read it, jump in, try it, be experimental … What’s the best that can happen?

A woman with chin-length grey curly hair smiles into the camera.

Grace Kempster

Grace Kempster’s  full-time PhD explores the representation of cloth and stitch in the mid-Victorian novel (1845-75).  She is examining 6 key texts by Thackeray, Dickens, Oliphant, Yonge , Eliot and Trollope to explore the tropes and consider a new paradigm of textile fluency affecting the novel. Her supervisors are Professor Delia Da Sousa Correa and Professor Nicola Watson.

Clips from the event will be included in the OU’s updated Advanced Creative Writing course (A363) launching in October. The series continues with events on the short story and novella, at 7.30pm on Monday 11 and 18 March, and one on the novel at 5pm on Monday 25 March. The series will conclude with an in-person panel event at Milton Keynes Central Library at 11am on Saturday 6 April.

About Emma Claire Sweeney

Lecturer in Creative Writing at the open University, Director of the Ruppin Agency Writer's Studio (a nationwide literary mentoring programme), and award-winning author of novel OWL SONG AT DAWN and co-author with Emily Midorikawa of non-fiction book A SECRET SISTERHOOD: THE HIDDEN FRIENDSHIPS OF AUSTEN, BRONTË, ELIOT AND WOLF.
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