by Helen Rye
The medieval city of Norwich, England, latest stop on the SmokeLong on the Road journey, is famous for mustard, British pubs and the legendary University of East Anglia creative writing program, founded by Malcom Bradbury in 1970. For a few cold and rainy days in early May, the SmokeLong Quarterly travelling editorial team wandered its ancient cobbled streets, arguing about stories, how to pronounce tomato sauce, the correct way to eat an English scone (jam first, then cream, of course), and revelling in being able to drink cider that tasted like cider.
Norwich city centre is dominated on one side by the reconstructed façade of its 11th century castle, the first thing William the Conqueror turned his hand to after he’d finished with the people of Hastings, and on the other, by the glass and steel of The Forum, a light-filled indoor public space containing the city library, broadcasting centre, exhibition spaces, a restaurant and café bar.
Bar Marzano at The Forum occupies the ground floor corner with the prettiest view, and it was here that SmokeLong editors Christopher Allen and Helen Rye, with James Smart, UEA MFA student and 2018 Smokey longlister, co-hosted Flashing Norwich, a showcase of flash fiction by established and emerging writers. Rather than have a running order, we elected to have each reader pull the bio of the next at random from the SmokeLong Quarterly Golden Travelling Clutch Purse and introduce their successor. This added an edge of suspense to the proceedings as well as meaning that none of the participants knew how soon they would be able to go to the bar.
Multi-award-winning flash writer and founding editor of Flashback Fiction, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, travelled from Cambridge to join us, along with local Nine Arches poet and prose writer Julia Webb, UEA Masters students Vijay Khurana, Jas Kirkbride and Amelia Vale, Melissa Fu, the 2019 UEA David TK Wong Fellow, and Norfolk-based flash fiction author David Steward. We are so grateful to everyone who came out to read and to listen to us, and to the brave open mic-ers who rounded off the evening at a half-hour’s notice.
Saturday saw the first of this year’s SmokeLong editors’ workshops. Seventeen keen participants discussed and experimented with ways to hone flash fiction that has something to say in a beautiful (and, of course, medieval) building dedicated to writing, after a slightly rocky start in which it transpired the venue had forgotten we were coming and was directing attendees of ‘today’s event’ somewhere down the street. We’d spent some fun hours earlier during our preparation time on ruining some beautiful stories by writing in some of the common issues we see that often result in submissions being rejected. Our workshop participants seemed to find this every bit as entertaining – and hopefully, also, useful. If you’re an editor and you find a rash of stories containing the word ‘gadoid’ in your queue, in the near future – we’re sorry.
We were so encouraged by the enthusiastic feedback, with people thanking us for the comfortable atmosphere and an inspiring, informative and motivating session. Several participants told us they were going away with new story drafts and ideas for the first time in a while, which made us very happy. What a lovely bunch of humans.
Christopher Allen and Tara Laskowski will be leading workshops at the UK Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol at the end of June, and we are now taking bookings for our half/full-day workshops in London on 6th July. Hope to see you somewhere on the road, soon!
London-area writers! Reserve your place at the July 6th SmokeLong Flash Fiction Workshop in London! Details HERE.
Helen Rye lives in Norwich, UK. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, the Reflex Fiction contest and third place in the 2018 Bristol Short story prize. Her stories have been nominated for Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize, and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She is a submissions editor for SmokeLong Quarterly and a prose editor for Lighthouse Literary Journal, and she helps out from time to time at Ellipsis Zine and TSS Publishing.