Interview by Sandra Arnold
Thank you for agreeing to this interview Leanne. Your collection, First Fox, published by the Emma Press in the UK has received excellent reviews at home and abroad. Could you tell us how these stories came into being? What inspired the title?
I was struck by how very short stories spark my imagination in a similar way to fairy tales. In both forms there tends to be minimal exposition – you’re plunged straight to the core of the story, creating a wonderful sense of immediacy. This led me to writing contemporary pieces infused with elements of the tales, particularly their flat, matter-of-fact tone and their focus on ordinary, everyday characters. I also experimented with motifs such as a sudden transformation or a talking animal. I felt this combination helped shine an interesting light on stories set in today’s world, stories about refugees and migrants, family dynamics, sexual politics.
First fox is the first story in this collection. I like how the word fox functions as both noun and verb; and how apt this is for the story.
Your flash fiction street art has appeared in various places around the world. What did this involve and what influenced you to do it?
I’m interested in how short stories might circulate other than in journals or zines. With the street art – I call them my PinUps – I wanted to evoke a tiny window into another world. I framed my nature photos and blu-tacked them around public spaces – shop windows, phone booths, park benches. Each PinUp had a sticker on the front saying Please take me home – I’ll look good on your wall. On the back, I pasted a flash story. To my amazement, the PinUps quickly disappeared and I began receiving messages about them: a high-school student wondered if he’d stumbled on a strange game; a tourist took one home to America, he stuck it to his dining room wall in the hope that a future guest might take the story on further adventures. A New Yorker asked if I could send him PinUps and put one on the 59th Street Bridge. Friends took PinUps away and they popped up in Sweden, France, China, London. It been such fun watching these photo/story combos hitch rides around the world.
Can you tell us about your background as a reader and writer? What drew you to the very short form?
I was raiding my sister’s books when I was about 12 and came across collections by Colette and Guy de Maupassant. From that point on I was addicted to short stories. I didn’t understand a lot at that age, but I got such a rush from reading them. I was like a dog with a bone – what does this mean? What does that? How many ways can this story end? How did it begin? There’s so much play to be had from short stories because of their reliance on nuance and implication. I developed crush after crush: Grace Paley, Donald Barthelme, Katherine Mansfield, Lucia Berlin, James Joyce’s Dubliners. I’ve been finding enthralling short story writers ever since. I’m sure I’ll be a fangirl forever.
As well as flash fiction you have also had short stories published and have been placed in both flash fiction and short story competitions. What do you think are the similarities and differences between these two forms? Do you set out to create one or the other or do you let the story dictate the form?
At the moment, I’m writing short stories. I’m enjoying having enough space for the present and the past to co-exist with a relative sense of ease. I couldn’t achieve that with flash. Although both forms share many of the same tools – the smaller scale of flash means more of the story needs to be left out.
I like stories to find their own size, although it can take many rewrites to establish what that might be.
What we now call flash fiction is not a new form; however, since the 1980s it has come into its own with hundreds of print and online magazines now including or focusing on very short stories and more anthologies and single author collections appearing. Do you think, as some do, that readers have shorter attention spans these days and that explains the popularity of the form? Or might there be other reasons?
I think one reason flash is so popular is that it fits the online space, where many of us spend a lot of time. Digital age readers are used to reading on their phone, and flash is easy to absorb as it can often fit on one screen. There are also countless online publishing options from Facebook to websites, blogs, apps, zines – where readers and writers can communicate in real-time via likes, shares, comments, links. All this activity helps generate a thriving flash eco-system.
How do you see the form evolving?
I really enjoyed Frankie McMillan’s My Mother and the Hungarians. This collection of very small fictions focuses on a local girl and a group of refugees. Reading this felt like a kind of text-pointillism – each story is a self-contained piece, but together they shimmer into a spacious, airy bigger picture. I think this ties in with what Nadine Gordimer said about the difference between short stories and novels: “The novelist[’s]… characters have the reader by the hand, there is a consistency of relationship throughout the experience that cannot and does not convey the quality of human life, where contact is more like the flash of fireflies, in and out, now here, now there, in darkness.” I feel McMillan achieves this flickering, provisional quality of human life with this collection.
Which flash fiction writers and publications do you particularly admire?
I like anthologies and journals as they introduce me to new writers, and to new stories by writers I already enjoy. Also, many short story writers include flash-scale work in their collections and I love fossicking for these. Stories I’m haunted by at the moment include “Postpartum” by Mary-Jane Holmes (Heliotrope with Matches and Magnifying Glass, 2018), “The Powder of the Angels, and I’m Yours” by Jayne Anne Phillips (Black Tickets, 1975), and “The Birds Began to Sing” by Janet Frame (The Lagoon, 1951).
Could tell us something about your current writing projects?
Lately, I’ve been writing short stories. Whilst First fox had a fairy tale feel, the stories in my new collection, Growing, are set in the here and now. They explore loss and resilience – from the loss of a country to the loss of child custody, desire, parents. In the title story [winner of the 2018 Graeme Lay Short Story Competition] the protagonist comes to terms with the fact she will never know where her mother – officially a Polish refugee – actually came from, what her name had been, her language. “Last Flowers” also concerns the impact of war on children. The protagonist returns to Bosnia for a reckoning with crimes that left her motherless during the Yugoslav Wars.
Apart from writing do you have another job? How does this influence what and when you write?
I’m a member of Central City Library’s research team. Our floor has a local fiction collection as well as full runs of journals such as Landfall, Sport and takahē. I’m constantly discovering new stories and older treasures, which provides lots of inspiration for my writing time at home.
What advice would you give to new writers wanting to write flash fiction?
I think it’s well worth attending a flash writing course. It’s great if there’s a local one as you can meet other people and perhaps form a writing group. There are also excellent online options. A few years ago I completed Fish Publishing’s online Flash Fiction Writing Course. I learnt so much about the building blocks of the form, I still refer to the course notes and repeat assignments from time to time. I couldn’t recommend this course more highly.
Thank you, Leanne.
Leanne Radojkovich’s collection of short fiction First fox was published in 2017 by The Emma Press. Her short stories have appeared in numerous publications including Litro Magazine, Firewords Quarterly and Numéro Cinq; and her flash fiction street art has travelled the world. She lives in Auckland. More at her website here and you can follow her on Twitter @linedealer.
Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia and is the author of three books. Her flash fiction appears in numerous international journals and anthologies including Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine, Blue Five Notebook, New Flash Fiction Review, Spelk, Bending Genres, and Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (Canterbury University Press, NZ, 2018). She was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize and the 2017 and 2018 Best Small Fictions. Her third novel Ash will be published by Mākaro Press (NZ) in 2019 and her first flash fiction collection Soul Etchings will be published by Retreat West Books (UK) in 2019. More at her website here.
Submit an interview to TSS.
Support TSS Publishing by subscribing to our limited edition chapbooks.