Interview by Fran Mulhern
Can you tell us a little about yourself? When did you start writing, and what drew you to flash fiction as a form? Do you write other forms too?
I’ve been writing in various forms for a long time but it was only really this year that I started trying to apply myself a bit more, and to try and improve my craft.
I’ve written and drawn comics for a number of years, which I mostly sold at zine fairs and self-publishing events (I think there’s an interesting comparison to be made between comics and flash fiction in the way both forms require you to be economical with language) These days I mostly write short stories and poems, though I’d like to try something longer form too.
Flash Fiction is something I’m relatively new to – handily there’s so much great work out there to be inspired by! I think with both flash fiction and poetry there’s something really fascinating in the way so much can be conveyed in so few words.
‘When Last We Spoke’ seems to require a lot of the reader – perhaps more than any of the other pieces submitted for the competition. That’s not at all a bad thing, but I’m curious if that’s intentional? For example, it opens with a great reference to emptying the dog, but I’m curious as to what ‘marble from the waist down’ means. Likewise, I’m left wondering why the narrator ties the leaf back onto the dog.
I don’t know that I meant to require the reader to work hard, but I’m grateful to anyone who takes the trouble to! I love writing that finds new ways to express the strangeness in everyday things, and stories that manage to retain their own logic even where all the components are absurd. So that’s what I’m reaching for.
The line about ‘marble from the waist down’ was actually from a poem I was working on at the same time – I liked it as an image of a sort of elegant paralysis or indolence. As for the ending – while I’m not saying this is the way the story necessarily has to be read – I was thinking about the way parent-child relationships change as we grow up, and the need to find new ways to communicate as adults. (But as expressed through hedges, teeth and shipwrecks of course)
Can you tell us a little about the process of writing this piece? Where did the inspiration come from? Did you have the ending in mind when you wrote the start? How many drafts did you do, and how long did it take you?
This piece actually started as an exercise in a workshop run by Clare Fisher (who has written, among other things, a brilliant book of flash fiction and short stories called How the Light Gets In), looking at the stories of Leonora Carrington and Lee Miller’s photography. I reworked it a number of times over a month or so afterwards, keeping some elements and changing others – including the ending, which became more hopeful in the final version (I think, anyway!) I’ll often start with an image or a phrase and try and write fairly freely from that, then part way through, or perhaps after a first draft, I’ll start to figure out what it is that I’m really writing about. Then on the second pass, things start to get a bit more focused.
How much do you read, and what forms? For example, short stories, novels, flash fiction, even poems. Which do you prefer, and who would you say your favourite influences have been?
I read pretty much constantly! Everything from giant novels down to microfiction. I don’t think I have a preference as such – different stories suit different forms. The Gormenghast books are these huge sprawling labyrinths because that’s what they need to be, whereas something like The Lottery by Shirley Jackson might lose some of its power if it was spread out over a hundred pages.
I think I’m probably influenced in different ways by lots of things I read but it’s tricky to pick out specifics – just in terms of what’s floating round my head at the moment I might say Scarlett Thomas, Mervyn Peake, Shirley Jackson, Jeff Vandermeer, Leonora Carrington and Dorothy Baker for prose, and Caroline Bird, Emily Dickinson and Luke Kennard for poetry. When it comes to flash, as I said, it’s something I’m just starting to discover, but I’m already blown away by everything I’ve read by Kristen Arnett.
Douglas Jensen is originally from Fife in Scotland and currently lives in Sheffield where he works for a housing charity. He writes short stories and poems with a particular interest in the surreal and absurd. He has also written and drawn a number of self-published comics and zines. He can be found on twitter @thatdougjensen. His Flash Fiction ‘When Last We Spoke’ was Highly Commended in the last TSS Flash 400 competition.
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