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Friday, 26 July 2013

Welcome to Calum Kerr

Writer Calum Kerr, as many of you know, is the mastermind behind National Flash Fiction Day. He is also the author of Lost Property, a beautiful collection of his flash fiction. And today I have the pleasure of welcoming him to this blog to tell us about the stories behind the stories. Over to you, Calum.


A Few of my Favourite Things

Well, hello again.
This is day 27 of my month-long blog tour. If you've been following the posts so far, you know I'm doing this to promote my new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property. It comprises four separate pamphlets, gathered together, and contains stories which span from my first ‘official’ flash-fictions in late 2009, up to the point at which I put them together, at the end of 2012. For this post, I've been asked to pick out some of my favourite stories and talk about them in particular.
First, I’d like to say that this is a horrible job. The stories were ALL chosen because they are my favourites. It’s like being asked to choose between your children. That said, some do have particular tales associated with them, so I suppose I could talk about them. But I need to send a message to all the other stories not mentioned here: ‘I don’t love you any less.’
Okay, with that done, let’s move on.
Now, some of the stories have tales that have already been told on this tour. I talked specifically about the first ones ever written – ‘Salt’ and ‘Pluck’ back on day 7, on Vanessa Gebbie’s blog (http://morenewsfromvg.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/in-beginning-visit-from-calum-kerr.html), and about ‘Who’s The Boss’ on Freya Morris’s site on the 8th (http://freyamorris.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/lost-in-flash-fiction-interview-with.html). Other stories have also been mentioned in passing, and I shall try not to repeat myself and instead pick some other stories.
Four that need to be mentioned are those from which the titles of the pamphlets were taken. My way of building the pamphlets – as I was assembling them from work already done, rather than writing to order – was to pick a stand-out story and then find others that I felt complemented or antagonised that story in some way. I wanted a collection which would circle around and question the central ideas of the title story.
I started with ‘Soaring’. This is a story set in the Israeli city of Holon. I wrote it during a month of my flash365 project when I was using places as prompts. I had asked the then girlfriend of my stepson – who had grown up in Israel – to name her favourite place from her time there. She named Holon and, I must admit, I had to go and look it up, as I had never heard of the place. Wikipedia gave me lots of information, including a detail which caught my eye: the story gardens. I read about them, and by the time I’d finished, the story was ready to be written.
I am rather proud of this story. It is haunting and elegiac in a way that a lot of my stories strive for but rarely achieve so well. I still have no idea what tale the protagonist is going to tell when they raise their hand at the end of the piece, but I find myself wondering about it often. It’s a story which stays with you, and I particularly like that. In the midst of a large collection, it might be too subtle to stand out, but I think it’s one of my best. I chose it to allow other stories to work with it – either extending the elegy, or grounding into something much more mundane.
The second collection, ‘Citadel’, came (as with ‘The Abbey’ which I talked about on Holly Howitt's site on the 23rd (http://hollyhowitt.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/guest-post-by-calum-kerr/)) from a photo posted on Facebook by Vanessa Gebbie. She had arrived in Athens, in her hotel, and taken a photo from her balcony. It was night, but the Acropolis was lit, and seemed to be floating in the air over the city. That was enough for me. Within that one image I could feel all of the mythical Greek gods calling to me. And so the story flowed and the others later came and gathered around its light.
‘Singalong’ is a much different kind of story to the others. It is funny and a bit weird and one that I have performed live on a number of occasions. It involves the spontaneous choral singing of Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ in the gentlemen’s lavatory of a pub. For copyright reasons, the lyrics have not been reproduced in the book, but when I perform the story live I break into full song and see if I can get the crowd to sing along. It seems to be one of those songs that all people know the lyrics to – by osmosis, or genetics, or something. I chose that story, partly because it’s great fun, but also because it allowed me to pull together some of the sillier of my stories, and also some of the darker – complementing and antagonising.
The final pamphlet is called Burning. The story of that name is a piece of what Tania Hershman calls ‘lab-lit’, ie: fiction set in a scientific setting; and it does indeed involve ‘love among the Bunsen burners’. However, that was not the core story of the pamphlet. In fact, that group of stories were put together around the story which gave its name to the whole book: ‘Lost Property’. When we appropriated the name for the full collection, we needed to rename the pamphlet to avoid confusion, so we picked ‘Burning’ as it was a one word title like the others, and seemed to work well in conjunction with them.
‘Lost Property’, the story, is not about what you would expect. No left luggage offices or piles of umbrellas here. No, this story was written, once again, as part of the ‘places’ month, and is about the Alamo. Some good research (by ‘good’ I mean more than just Wikipedia) went into this one, and again I'm proud of the tone of the story and its open nature. The stories in this pamphlet were gathered together looking at concepts of both lost and found, circling around this one tale in an attempt to expand upon it.
I could carry on and give you the story behind each of the fictions in the collection, but that would really take too long. And the backstory isn't really important. The stories speak for themselves, they tell their brief tales and then move on, leaving you to ponder. I hope that the collection is a good balance of genres, of styles, of the funny with the sad, of the purposeful with the vague, of light and dark, but I suppose that’s for you to decide.

As a little teaser, here’s the story that you could now say is to the core around which the whole collection resolves itself.

Lost Property
By Calum Kerr

Alamo means cottonwood, is the thought which goes through Pedro’s head when he walks past the slightly slumped former-mission. He thinks of the widely-spread branches, the tree which seems to be reaching for the ground as much as the sky, and knows it is the right name.
He finishes his shift at about one, most nights. With the customers fed and gone, and everything clean and ready for the next day’s service, he finally walks the few blocks back to his apartment, past the historical landmark.
On many nights he stops. There are benches opposite the building for tourists, often weighed down by Pedro’s generous portions, to linger and rest and admire this restored piece of their past.
Sometimes Pedro sits on one of the benches and stares at the walls which are lit into unblemishment by night-long spotlights. Sometimes, like tonight, he walks up to the walls, standing close enough to touch.
Years of money has performed the miracle of removing age and disfigurement. There is little trace of musket fire or barrage unless one knows to look for it.
The Mission of Saint Anthony of Padua, says the sign on the grass. Saint Anthony, the saint of lost things. It seems appropriate to Pedro. So much has been lost in this place: the loss of Texas to the Americans, the loss of lives, and now the loss of a real history in favour of a facelift and a make-over.
Pedro steps back from the walls and looks around at the town. The fighters of that day would not recognise the place of their deaths, not even as a dream.
As he walks the last few hundred yards to his apartment, as ever he holds Saint Anthony in his thoughts, and hopes that what has been lost can one day be found.




Bio:
Calum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife -  the writer, Kath Kerr -  their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is now available from Amazon at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Property-Calum-Kerr/dp/095769850X/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372940684&sr=1-4 or direct from the publisher, Cinder House, at: http://cinderhouse.com/product/lost-property-by-calum-kerr/. The individual e-pamphlets which make up the book are also available via Dead Ink at http://deadinkbooks.com/archives/category/ebooks


17 comments:

  1. Thank you Calum - I really enjoyed your flash fiction and thanks, Joanna, for hosting.

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  2. Many thanks, Wendy. It is fascinating to hear about the genesis of stories and to have these inspiring examples of flash fiction. I often write flash fiction as a way of condensing a story right down to make an impact. x

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  3. Thanks to Calum for an interesting post, and also for the hard work on establishing National Flash Fiction Day. It's a great event and has really helped put flash fiction on the literary map. I shall be visiting those other blogs too now, to read more about Lost Property.

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  4. Thank you, Joanne. You are absolutely right about Calum's hard work and the great success of National Flash Fiction Day. I wouldn't know how to begin to put something like that together and I admire his perseverance and enthusiasm.
    His other blog posts do make really interesting reading too and I'm sure you'll enjoy them. Thanks so much, Joanne. x

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  6. Thanks all, glad you enjoyed the post. If you go to the Lost Property page on Facebook, you can find links to all the other blog posts. https://www.facebook.com/LostPropertyCalumKerr
    Calum

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  7. I didn't know about Calum so this was most interesting.I've tried writing flash fiction and it is so difficult!

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    1. Many thanks, Myra. I found flash fiction hard at the start, but when I was taking part weekly in the online Write-Invite competition, it began to get easier. The pressure of choosing one of three given themes and producing a story based on that theme within half-an-hour was tremendous, but also exhilarating and a lot of fun.
      Sometimes I would stare at the screen in a blind panic for the first minute, but when the minutes were ticking away, it felt like a real thrill to see if I could get a complete story finished in that short time. x

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  8. Love the story behind the stories, Calum, and the above flash fiction. It's a delightful form of story telling for concentrating the mind and learning to be concise, but is often difficult to produce so well!

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    1. Thank you, Rosemary. It really does help to focus the mind and for me, the best part is paring it down even further to see if there really is a story beneath the excess words I've written.
      For National Flash Fiction Day, I took a 350 word story and whittled it down to a hundred words. It read better for the trimming and I was amazed that it still told the story, just with less 'tell' and more 'show'.x

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  9. I love the flash fiction form and enjoyed reading Calum's story above. Thanks for such an interesting post!

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  10. Thank you, Vikki. Flash fiction is incredible, isn't it? Sometimes I can't believe how such a small number of words can create a character capable of stirring the reader's emotions and lingering for a long time afterwards. x

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  11. Loved this post, thank you Joanna and Calum.

    xx

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  12. I liked this post. Story is great.

    Nas

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  13. Good luck, Callum, with your Flash Fiction publication. A fav genre of mine now too :O)

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  14. My brother suggested I might like this website. He was entirely right. This post truly made my day. You cannot imagine just how much time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

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  15. Very best of luck to Callum. Flash fiction aficionados are certainly6 growing I feel.

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