Author Profile: Rebecca Dempsey

RebeccaDempsey

How and when did you decide, or discover, that you were to be a writer?

When I was nine I learned to read. When I was ten, I read a story my mother wrote and I plagiarised it (oops). My teacher liked it, although my mother was a little annoyed. From that moment I realised that while reading is useful, it’s writing that gets you the attention. Then I had a high school English teacher who was particularly encouraging (hello Marg Muller). Eventually, years later, I resigned myself to the fact I was indeed a writer when studying the craft of short stories under the talented and inspiring John Holton.

What inspired you to write flash fiction?

Flash and short stories are my natural habitat. It’s what I wrote as a child, and much of what I read as a teen. I gravitated towards studying short stories when I had a choice, rather than novels. I like the sense of completeness they provide, because some can take minutes to flesh out. Having said that, it’s remarkable how some flash fiction can take years to draft and set in stone, as it were.

Describe your writing process.

I write after work, in the afternoons and early evening. On weekends I sometimes write most of the day or all night. At other times, whenever I need to. I can write every day, but often won’t. There are no rituals; it’s just me in front of a screen, or occasionally a note book. While I don’t outline for flash fiction I do tend to have an entire concept in my head. Once it’s down, it’s revised many times, from tiny tweaks to major overhauls, sometimes as I go. Research could include months of reading (as with my novella), or just a quick check to ensure factual accuracy if indeed a story uses facts. So research is like string, really useful, and can be any length (of time), but is not always needed.

What was the inspiration behind what was published on FewerThan500.com?

I’m fascinated by myth, so even when it’s not a direct part of my writing, it’s there, so Thoth seemed like a good fit. In part, this story was inspired by aspects of where I grew up in rural South Australia: the wetlands, the plants and animals. However, I am not the character; she was just there, waiting.

What are you working on now?

As for what I’m doing now, I’m editing my novella inspired by the first named writer in the world Enheduanna of Ur. I am attempting to complete the NaNoWriMo manuscript I started last November, while resisting starting something new. In other moments I tend my blog at writingbec.wordpress.com where links to my published stories can be found. It’s where I write about writing, and art, and review Doctor Who episodes in terms of the writing (because why not).

Thoth

By Rebecca Dempsey

From atop her hiding place in the old shed, Leah thrilled at the sight of the bird. He was a sign. She brushed the sun bleached wisps of hair from her eyes to watch him circle, until he made a stately landing in the reeds of the far paddock, a waterlogged marshland, yet to be drained. Bird of wisdom and indeed the alphabet, as young as she was, Leah knew nature vindicated her. She held her hand up to her face still clutching a pen, as she squinted into the sun, straining to glimpse how his curved beak prodded the murky shallows of the distant swamp. It seemed a logical leap for Leah to know that from this, she was a writer. A god himself had seen fit to visit his gifts with her ibis that bright spring.

As hallowed as she was, she acknowledged not all abilities are heralded so clearly. With her green eyes Leah saw flashes of a future when Thoth would desert her. Nature may support her now, but there were hints that forces more immense than one fragile child governed the world. Leah stood on the gate, as the Herefords stampeded across the marsh, crushing the prostantheras underfoot as cattle dust and mint odours mixed in a heady rush. In such devastation, Leah also saw a lingering beauty, like when shoots spring from eucalypts after the fires and are made all the greener against the blackened trunks. Leah saw the earth was nothing if not cyclical and so she wrote in hope, because after every blaze there is regrowth.

In town, hedgerows of hawthorn, and mazes of roses and lavender lived by the rules of an ordered society. She could barely breathe, it was so constricted. Wild Leah preferred the farm’s winter flowering wattles, spreading their gold pollen in mosaiced patterns across the grey, uneven paddocks. She too, preferred the wind through old manna gums and the rattling, waving clumps of phalaris grasses, which dwarfed the grazing herds. Here Leah wrote, note pad in her lap, chewing fitfully, a long stem of hay. It was where she waited for the yearly return of her ibis, whose flock grew as numerous as the secret scribbled words across her pages.

One day, she thought, she will be as free as her old Thoth to come and go.

One day, her words would fly from this roost. It was as certain as the seasons.

One day, Leah hoped, she would stand as proud as the strutting ibis, dark against the drying grasses.

She was in exams when the grader rumbled in, bulldozing a deep scar across the sodden soil of the swamp to leach the water away. No soothing words from her parents, no gesture made up for the loss Leah could barely articulate beyond a flood of hot tears that evening.

The home of the ibis was gone.

Thoth wouldn’t return; nor would she.

Smoke feathered the sky that night as flames ate her words.


Rebecca Dempsey is a writer, mainly of short fiction, based in Melbourne, Australia. Recent works have featured in the first edition of Heather, in Deadman’s Tome and The Stray Branch. She has a Masters in creative writing from Deakin University and keeps at blog at writingbec.wordpress.com.

Author Profile: Kate Mahony

KateMahony

How and when did you decide, or discover, that you were to be a writer?

As a teenager, I won a non-fiction writing competition and also had some opinion-piece articles published. Then at university I had a short story published in a literary magazine under a pseudonym. I remember the editor sending me a note afterwards saying, if you are serious about being a writer, use your own name. That struck me as important. So from then on I did!

What inspired you to write flash fiction?

I’d always been a writer of longer fiction – 5000-word stories; I’ve one completed draft of a novel (for my MA in Creative Writing) and a few incomplete novel drafts. I came across Flash Frontier a few years back with its 250 word count and given theme each issue and submitted a story. After that I was hooked! Since then my flash fiction has been shortlisted and long-listed in a number of international competitions.

Describe your writing process.

I’ve taught short story writing and know all about writing every day, at a certain time, place, number of words, persistence etc, but I’m not good at taking my own advice. There are many times I just don’t want to write! I’ve been a journalist and editor – so I make excuses, telling myself that over my working life I’ve written millions of words and that must be good practice.

I know I work better in the late afternoon. I also like to go to a café some days and write there, or record scraps of conversations.

Some of this writing languishes in a notebook until I come across it ages later and see how it can be used in a story. I don’t outline stories. I mull them over as full stories, and try to see where they might start and end.  I’ll be walking by the sea and my subconscious will come up with another layer/sub-text to add. Maybe I work out how to improve an old story that has been rejected a few times (it’s always exciting when that story finally finds a home).

I do lots of revision/re-writing to the point I actually enjoy it. Writing flash fiction has helped me improve how I edit longer stories.  It’s about efficiency, making every word count.

What was the inspiration behind what was published on FewerThan500.com?

The city I live in, Wellington, New Zealand. It’s a small arty place (“The coolest little capital city in the world” – Lonely Planet). You get to recognise faces on the street – the softly-spoken elderly lady with a suitcase who begs on that corner (“Got a $2, Ma’am?”), the guy who goes everywhere with a bottle of coke in his hand. There’s been some so well-known they’ve had new names bestowed on them (“Blanket Man” and “Bucket Man”) by the local community.  Each has their own story or stories, and sometimes these come to be heard only after they have passed from this life.  The busker (“Guitar Man”?) in Love of my life also has a story to tell. It may be one of many.

What are you working on now?

A novel which I have been planning for some time. A tract of land has been home to a number of people over different periods of time. Tragic events have occurred on this land, linking the main character and other characters to the past. It’s a kind of time-slip novel. But there will always be short stories to write, competitions to enter…

Love of My Life

By Kate Mahony

He sits on the pavement, singing an off-key The Ten Guitars song from the 60s. He’s a terrible singer, in his 40s, one eye yellowed and rheumy looking. In front, he has a notice, handwritten: “I’m singing because I need to make enough money to get my guitar fixed.” I dig in my wallet and find a stray $2 coin to put in the cap lying on the street.

“Thanks.” A tooth is missing from the row at the top of his mouth.

I’m about to move on, but then I pause, stand in front of him. I’m curious now. “What’s wrong with your guitar?”

He reaches behind him for a piece of wood, broken off the neck.  He drags the rest of the guitar out, too. The strings are missing.

“Yeah,” he says, looking down at the beat up instrument. “It’s because of my house mate.  He brought drugs back to the house one night and that’s not allowed. So I told him and his friend to get out. The mate got angry and that’s when he broke the head of the guitar.” He touches it gently. “I could’ve cried.” He looks at me again. Sees that I am still there, listening. Waiting for something. “Yeah, I’ve had her for years. Love of my life.”

“So can it be fixed?” I stare at the remains of the guitar.

“Yeah, yeah, it can,” he sounds as if he wants to believe it himself. “It’ll cost $80 the guy in the music shop said, and it’ll all be hunky dory.”

We both look at the guitar, an instrument that appears to have had its life beaten out of it ten times over.

“So I need to get the 80 bucks.”

“What about the strings?”

“Yeah, he broke them off, too.”

It seems all too much. I begin to move away.

He fixes his gaze on me, takes a breath, and when he speaks his tone is higher, more urgent.

“Yeah, my dad gave it to me.” A sound whistles through the gap where his tooth should be.

I consider this for a moment. The age of the man in front of me. The age of his father. “Really?” I ask.

Maybe it’s my dubious tone. He shrugs and turns to stash the broken guitar behind him, the conversation now over. At least for him.

Something makes me take a $20 note from my wallet and stash it in his cap even though he doesn’t see me do so.

As I walk off, I tell myself: his story alone is worth at least that much.


Kate Mahony’s fiction has appeared in literary magazines including Takahe, Flash Frontier, The Island Review, and Blue Fifth Review. It was shortlisted in Fish Publishing Ireland’s short story competition and the New Zealand National Flash Fiction competition, 2015. She has an MA in Creative Writing and lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

Author Profile: Sandra Arnold

SandraArnold

How and when did you decide, or discover, that you were to be a writer?

I was a prolific reader from a very early age. At the age of eleven I wrote a play and had it performed by my class at school. I also wrote a collection of poems around the same time.  I wrote poetry for myself only throughout my school and college days and early adulthood then turned to short fiction in my thirties. Some of these stories were broadcast on radio and published in literary magazines and anthologies. A couple of novels followed. In 2005 I did a MLitt in Creative Writing and in 2010 completed a PhD on the topic of parental bereavement. Part of my thesis was published as a book by Canterbury University Press in 2011.

What inspired you to write flash fiction?

At the beginning of 2016 I completed another novel which had taken over three years to write.  I wasn’t ready to begin another long project so I started putting together a collection of short stories. Around the same time I discovered Flash Frontier, a New Zealand website edited by Michelle Elvy. I found some beautiful examples of flash here and on other websites so I set myself the challenge of trying to write it. Soon I was hooked. I love the way a complete story can be told in so few words and at the same time leave gaps for the reader to fill in with their own imagination. My first flash was long-listed in the New Zealand National Flash Fiction Day Competition, the second was short-listed in The Short Story Competition (UK) and others have been published or are forthcoming in Flash Frontier, The Jellyfish Review, Flash Flood and The Linnet’s Wings.

Describe your writing process.

When I was teaching I fitted writing around evenings, weekends and holidays. Now that I’m writing fulltime I work for about six hours a day in my study which overlooks farmland and mountains.  Mornings are usually devoted to new material and the afternoons to revision. When I’m working on long fiction or non-fiction I do a lot of research and a lot of revision. Flash fiction begins with an idea and the process is much quicker though not necessarily easier.

What was the inspiration behind what was published on Fewer Than 500.com?

The story ‘A Strategy for Change’ began with a news item I read about bullying in a local  primary school and the principal’s response to it. ‘The Girl Who Wanted to Fly’ sprang into my mind as I was feeding my alpacas one beautiful  morning when a rainbow arched over the sky. The best ideas arrive when I’m not sitting at my desk.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing more flash fiction as I have found it to be excellent discipline for writing in any genre. At the same time I’m continuing to work on longer short stories.

A Strategy for Change

By Sandra Arnold

“I do understand your concern,” The principal said. “These incidents can be challenging.”

“The little shit beat up my daughter again. What are you going to do about it?”

“We’re dealing with it, Mrs. Trulove. We’ve asked Dax to fill out a think page where he can reflect on his behaviour and the impact it has had on Sophie. And the counselor is supporting him in his efforts to effect change.”

“You’ve got to be bloody joking! The little sod’s a bully and needs stopping!”

“We don’t have bullying in this school, Mrs. Trulove. These recent few incidents have involved a minority of young children with behavioural issues. When they exhibit challenging behaviours we put strategies in place to support them to respond more appropriately.”

“The little bastard punched her in the face. He stomped on her hands. He kicked her in the belly. She cries every morning when I take her to school. Where are you lot when he goes rampaging around the playground?”

“There’ll always be the odd playground scuffle, Mrs. Trulove. The teachers can’t be everywhere at once.”

“I want the little thug excluded this time!”

“Education is for all children, Mrs. Trulove. Even those with behavioural challenges.”

“The little sod needs a good wack with a leather belt.”

The Principal brought the tips of his fingers together under his chin and closed his eyes. “Mrs. Trulove, as I’m sure you’re aware, we live in a more enlightened age now. We don’t hit children anymore.”

“No. You give them a bloody think page and let them carry on terrorising!”

“Mrs. Trulove, please be assured we are doing everything possible to maintain a learning environment where all our children feel valued, supported and safe.”

”Yeah. Right. Well you can stuff your think pages and your safe learning environment! If you won’t take action, I will!”

The sound of the slamming door left his ears ringing. The third that day. He closed his eyes then reached into his desk drawer for the Panadol and  lavender oil. His secretary said a dab on each wrist was good for alleviating stress.  He had fifteen minutes before the next parent. He’d better call a meeting after school. He had a feeling some of these parents would go to the media this time. He needed to formulate a response. He needed to do something about that door.

At hometime she told Sophie to get in the car and wait.  When Dax came out she stepped forward to block his path.

On the way home Sophie asked what she’d said to Dax to make him run off like that.

“Oh I told him what we had in our freezer in the cellar.”

“But we don’t have a freezer. Or a cellar.’

“No. But he doesn’t know that.”

“What did you say was in it?”

“Put it this way. It  helped him reflect on his behavioural challenges in a way that would  affect immediate change.”

“Eh?”

“He won’t hit you again.”


Sandra Arnold is a New Zealand novelist, short story and non-fiction writer with a PhD in Creative Writing. Her work has been widely published and anthologised and has won and been short-listed in several literary awards.

Author Profile: Angel Zapata

AngelZapata

How and when did you decide, or discover, that you were to be a writer?

I was assigned a poetry writing assignment in high school. Reading Wordsworth, Blake, and Shakespeare ignited my spirit. I saw the beauty they created and wanted to create something beautiful of my own. I began submitting my work to journals— via snail mail in those days— and publication credits quickly followed. Poetry felt like the tip of an iceberg for me and, through gradual exploration, I slowly slipped into writing fiction, specifically genre fiction, which I wholeheartedly love.

What inspired you to write flash fiction?

I was writing flash fiction before I knew what it was. While my writer friends kept me informed on the number of pages they completed daily, I was penning these really short, 100-word stories. The concise nature of them just felt perfect to me. I love knowing there’s the potential for twelve flawlessly-strung words to shine brighter than five hundred indiscriminately placed.

Describe your writing process.

I usually write during the day, rarely in the evening. Most of the time I’m on the go, so my writing is squeezed into every free moment I get. Some writers have daily word count goals that far exceed my weekly goals, but I’m okay with spending the day writing one sentence and tweaking it to perfection. I also spend a lot of time reading and researching a myriad of topics. It’s made me a stronger and more confident writer.

What was the inspiration behind what was published on FewerThan500.com?

This is the type of question I get asked a lot, and it never gets any easier for me to answer. More often than not, I don’t know the exact moment a story sparks to life in my brain, don’t always recognize the trigger. As it so happens, The Boy Who Plays with Knives sprung from a playful exercise I like to participate in from time to time. I was thinking about the novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and I wanted to create my own Larsson-esque tale in as few sentences as possible. Four hundred words seemed just right.

What are you working on now?

Lately, I’ve been quietly working on a new chapbook of literary poems and fleshing out the next installment of my crime thriller series, featuring my character, Roddy Sanchez. I took several months off from sending out my work to e-zines and printed journals. I was absolutely enjoying the movement of my pen on the page and didn’t want to break my stride. But now I’m more than ready to leap into the fray again.