Twenty-seventh in a series of author-to-author interviews to distract them, and you, from lockdown torpor.
Laura Besley (Story Cities) interviewed by Joanne L. M. Williams (No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book, We/She)
Joanne: You have several flash fictions published, including your collection The Almost Mothers, and a piece in Arachne’s Story Cities. What is it about shorter fiction that you especially enjoy? Do you also write using other forms, or is flash fiction always your preference?
Laura: When I first started writing I had no intention of becoming a short fiction writer. I’ve always read a lot, but novels, and had initially seen that as my only path. However, when I first started writing, I had lots of ideas, but struggled to get past a few cohesive sentences, or paragraphs.
I stumbled across Calum Kerr online and his challenge to write a piece of flash fiction every day for a year. I decided to do the same and started in May 2012. Some of the pieces were fine, some were terrible, some were never finished, but I learned a lot about myself as a writer in that time, the most important being that I had fallen in love with short fiction and the precision needed to tell a story.
I don’t feel ready to take the leap into longer fiction yet, but I’m fairly sure I will one day.
Joanne: When did you start writing fiction? Have you done so since you were young?
Laura: I remember writing a story about a fairground when I was about nine or ten, but that’s the extent of my childhood writing experience. I started writing again when I was in my late twenties, while I was living in Germany. Initially I was writing non-fiction, about my travels and experiences there. Once I’d moved to Hong Kong, I started writing fiction.
Joanne: Do you have a daily or weekly schedule or pattern for writing? How does this fit in with the rest of your life?
Laura: I have two young children (six and two) and have to fit my writing in around them. Before lockdown, I used to write while my eldest was at school and my youngest was napping. Now, I’m lucky that my husband is working from home and I write every morning from 7:30-9:00 before he needs the office, and I need to take over the childcare. I’m a morning person, so this works well for me. Once the children are in bed, I’m usually too tired to write new things, but do other writing-related things for an hour or so like editing or submitting.
Joanne: Where do you write? Do you have a particular place you always sit to work for example, or any associated rituals, or can you write anywhere?
Laura: I can write anywhere, in a supermarket queue or while my son is having a swimming lesson, but my preference is in cafés. I like the cacophony; the snippets of overheard conversations, people watching, the small interactions you have with strangers, the coffee. Obviously at the moment that’s not possible, so I’m either in our office or at the kitchen table.
Joanne: How has your experience of living in different countries and cultures influenced your writing?
Laura: Directly, not a lot. I’ve only written a few stories set in other countries (I’ve lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Hong Kong), but everything you see and experience gets filed away. I hope one day to write about these places that have played a big part in my life.
Joanne: What are your literary influences and who are some of your favourite writers?
Laura: Always a tough question because there are too many to mention. My current favourite authors are Elizabeth Strout, most famous for her novel-in-stories: Olive Kitteridge; Kate Atkinson, I think her companion novels Life After Life and A God in Ruins are perfection; and Maggie O’Farrell whose books I love, but it was also after reading an article by her wherein she stated that if you wanted to write, you should “take yourself seriously”. I think that advice completely changed my attitude towards writing.
Joanne: Do you ever write specifically in response to prompts, or call-outs for work on a particular theme, and do you find this useful? Or does your inspiration mainly come from other sources?
Laura: I often write to prompts or call-outs for particular themes, but not exclusively. If I have an idea about something, I’ll jot it down and maybe it won’t be used for months, or years, but I never throw anything away.
Joanne: Flash fiction is less well known, and perhaps less easy to find, than other fiction forms. Are there any online sources of shorter fiction, or printed collections, that you would recommend?
Laura: There are so many online journals for flash fiction, too many to mention here, but I’ll list a few of my favourites: Adhoc Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Fictive Dream, Fifty Word Stories, Lunate, Reflex Fiction, Smokelong Quarterly, Spelk.
Something relatively new, but gaining popularity fast, is the novella-in-flash: a novella, but each chapter is a piece of standalone flash fiction. I’ve read a few recently and really enjoyed them: An Inheritance by Diane Simmons (Adhoc), Dinosaur by Adam Lock (Ellipsis), Three Sisters of Stone by Stephanie Hutton (Ellipsis), The Neverlands by Damhnait Monaghan (VPress), Tethered by Ross Jeffery.
Joanne: What is your own favourite piece (or pieces) that you’ve written and why?
Laura: I’ve chosen three pieces that are very special to me.
- ‘Near and Far’ (Spelk, 2018) holds a few threads of my mother’s childhood, she was born and spent the first few years of her childhood in Indonesia;
- ‘That Apple’ (Fictive Dream, 2018) was my first ever journal publication. It’s written in 2nd person point of view and I know popular opinion generally doesn’t favour this, but personally I love it and use it whenever I can.
- ‘The Motherhood Contract’ (Ellipsis, 2018) is about a mother who is struggling and there is a lot of my early motherhood emotions in this piece.
Joanne: Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
Laura: As well as individual pieces, I’m also working on a novella-in-flash. It’s been several years in the making, but am hoping that this is the year I finish it. I’ve also found myself writing about the current situation a lot, either my own experiences or fictional ones. If there are enough good pieces, hopefully I’ll be able to bundle them together.