A few months ago I submitted a piece of flash fiction that I’d written to a competition run by Fish Publishing, in Ireland. I’d heard about the competition through Writers Victoria, which regularly advises its members of opportunities, competitions and courses.
For some reason the little ad about the competition grabbed my attention, even though I’d never written any flash fiction before. It’s a format that intrigues me: how can you tell a meaningful story in a couple of paragraphs?
I have to confess that I haven’t read much flash fiction. I’m a fan of a number of writers on Twitter who write fiction in the space of a tweet (yes, stories in 160 characters or less!), but I’m not familiar with any writers of flash fiction and not even sure where I’d find their work.
In any case, the competition must have been in the back of my mind when a phrase popped into my head: “he looked into her eyes”. It was just a phrase but I immediately wondered if I could turn it into something more. I sat down to write and before I knew it I’d written a story. As I wrote I was conscious that I was trying to capture a character and a relationship, an entire life together in fact, in less than a page. I guess this is the challenge of flash fiction: to write something brief but complete in 300 words or less.
I showed the piece to a friend who gave me some constructive criticism, some of which I took on board, some of which I didn’t – all of which was useful. I submitted my story to Fish Publishing and waited.
Two days ago they wrote to say that my little story – He Looked Into Her Eyes – had made the longlist. If you’re not familiar with the concept, first the competition judges narrow down the submissions to a longlist, then a shortlist, then the runners up and the winners. There were 1250 submissions of flash fiction and 278 made the longlist. I was thrilled to be on it.
I’m definitely interested in exploring the flash format further and seeing what else I can do with it. I’m also really looking forward to reading the Fish Anthology 2014 when it comes out to see what other people did with their 300 words.
Meanwhile, I thought I’d share my story with you.
He Looked Into Her Eyes
He looked into her eyes, squeezed her hand, thought of all the times he’d held her hand, held her in his arms, cupped her breasts, held her to him, the feeling of her bare skin on his, the way they’d explored each other hungrily at first – then tenderly, the times they’d made love, fought, laughed together, sat quietly together, disciplined the children together, played cards with friends, went camping, broke down on the 39 degree public holiday in the middle of nowhere with nothing open around them and no mobile phones to call for assistance – and how she’d laughed, the different ways she laughed, the different ways she cried, the way her voice got higher when she got excited or angry, the way she narrowed her eyes at him when he made excuses for not taking out the rubbish or mowing the lawn, how she’d reacted when he told her she snored – disbelieving at first and then laughing heartily, how they’d playfully teased each other as their bodies began to change, how they’d talked about growing old together when they first met, the day they first met, the day he met her parents, the day she met his mother, the first day he left her alone with the twins and how desperately she’d handed them over to him when he’d walked in the door, the times he’d leaned on her for support and how grateful he’d felt that he had her strength to rely on –
He thought of all of these things as he leaned over her, tenderly brushed the hair out of her face, wiped away the lone tear that had fallen from his cheek onto hers, kissed her passionately and then – only then – nodded to the doctor, who switched off the machine.