Each year, writers from around the world come together in Bristol, UK to celebrate the art of flash fiction. In this interview I speak to the co-founder of the UK Flash Fiction Festival, Jude Higgins.
The UK Flash Fiction Festival is a weekend devoted solely to the form of flash. Tell us about its inception way back when.
The first festival was in 2017, so this is the eighth year and there were two years during Covid when there couldn’t be a face to face event. I ran festival days mostly every month online during 2020 and 2021, keeping the festival energy up and the anthology series going. It all began in 2016 when Meg Pokrass was visiting me where I live, near Bath, and we came up with the idea together. We both thought there should be a weekend event entirely devoted to flash fiction and it would be good to have it in Bath because the Bath Flash Fiction Award, which I run, was gaining a reputation. I applied and got an Arts Council Grant for the first year and hired a community centre in Bath. Meg, who knew Pamela Painter, invited her to come as our first international workshop leader and U.K. presenters included Kit de Waal, Tania Hershman, and David Gaffney. Vanessa Gebbie, Ken Elkes, and Michael Loveday also came and have led workshops every year since. Lots of people attended. I remember there weren’t quite enough chairs for each room. I asked people to carry them around! It was a great atmosphere — exciting and a bit crazy.
How has the festival grown and changed over the years?
For the second year and subsequently, the festival has been held in Bristol in Trinity College and extended to include Friday evening. Trinity has a lot more space and beautiful grounds. And also some accommodation and camping. There’s a bigger range of workshops to choose from now, a larger bookshop and more international workshop leaders, including regular attenders Ike Kathy Fish, Nancy Stohlman and you, Traditional events now occur, like the pre-festival workshop with Kathy Fish, a ‘word cricket’ warm-up writing exercise with Vanessa Gebbie, the Pokrass Prize, a contest for participants with winners announced at the festival, set and judged by Meg Pokrass. There have been other innovations, like the amazing SmokeLong flash cab videos made during the 2019 weekend, a flash fiction fete last year, with games and, of course, the extraordinary karaoke hosted by you and Helen Rye — in the bar, a separate building, always gorgeously decorated by Helen. The festival hasn’t got much larger in numbers. About 120 participants keep it fun and friendly.
The festival packs so much into three days: workshops, readings, panels, book launches, and entertainment. I know a lot of planning goes into this. When do you start planning, and who helps?
I begin work on the Festival in September and do all the planning myself — creating the website, thinking about the spread of workshops, contacting workshop leaders. Diane Simons co-directed the weekend with me for three years and she was in charge of volunteers, accommodation and catering as well as being a great support, I also get admin and tech support from John O’Shea at Ad Hoc Fiction, who also produces the anthology. There is a festival team who support me with various jobs, when booking gets underway, and a band of volunteers who are kept busy during the weekend.
What’s new this year? And what are some of the workshop topics?
This year, there are not so many readings on Friday and Saturday evenings, leaving people more time to socialise with friends after long days. Different readings are taking place during the day and within workshops. There will be some mini book launches of new books. As usual, there is a huge range of workshops with usually five to choose from in each of seven workshop slots during the weekend. Naming some, we have Shakespeare and Flash, Physicality in Flash, Science and Flash, Psychedelic Flash, Art and Flash, Nature and Flash, Food writing, Using The Collective Voice in flash, Writing from Taboo, Building a Collection, Writing a Novella in Flash, Sexing up the Prose Poem. So many more.
I have attended the festival at least four times. I came to the first festival when it was in Bath and met strangers who are now family. The UK Flash Fiction Festival is like a big family writing tiny stories together. It’s a fantastic place to make new friends. I love the atmosphere you’ve created. What is your favourite part of the festival?
My favourite thing about the festival is seeing how happy people are. I love that people have made lasting friendships. As well as inspiring people to write and read flash, it is so much fun. Afterwards I enjoy getting the gallery of photographs together for the website and then seeing people’s stories in the festival anthology. This year, Ad Hoc Fiction will complete the rainbow series of festival anthologies with the violet edition. But we’re not stopping there!
Jude Higgins is a writer and writing tutor and has stories published or forthcoming in the New Flash Fiction Review, Flash Frontier, FlashBack Fiction, The Blue Fifth Review, The Nottingham Review,Pidgeon Holes, Moonpark Review,Fictive Dream, the Fish Prize Anthology National Flash Fiction Day anthologies and Flash: The International Short Short Story Magazine among other places. She has won or been placed in many flash fiction contests and was shortlisted in the Bridport Flash Fiction Prize in 2017, 2018 and 2023. Her debut flash fiction pamphlet The Chemist’s House was published by V.Press in 2017. Her micro fictions have been included in the 2019 and 2020 lists of Best Flash Fictions of UK and Ireland and she has been nominated for Best Small Fictions 2020, BestMicro Fictions, 2023, a Pushcart Prize, 2020 and Best of the Net, 2022. Her story ‘Codes To Live By’ was selected for Best Micro Fictions and was longlisted for Wigleaf in 2022. She founded Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2015, directs Ad Hoc Fiction, the short short fiction press, co-runs The Bath Short Story Award, founded and directs the Flash Fiction Festival, UK, organises reading events and teaches flash fiction sessions online.
Christopher Allen is the publisher and editor-in-chief of SmokeLong. He is the author of the flash fiction collection, Other Household Toxins, and the satire Conversations with S. Teri O’Type. His work has been featured in Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton), The Best Small Fictions, and over 100 journals and anthologies. Allen has judged The Bridport Prize, The Bath Flash Fiction Award, The Cambridge Prize, and others. He is a nomad.