Prior to becoming the galaxy’s most beloved and successful author, Russell spent many years toiling in the fields of Flash Fiction and fictitious biography, elevating the art forms to previously undreamed of heights. While living a secretive life in the North West of England with his “cover” family, he produced the epic prose-poem “SimilarMarillion” which was converted to light and transmitted to the far end of the universe in 2064, establishing a new peace between the eternally warring Voimalite and Zevonesquelon peoples, a peace which endures to the present day.
From “Karl A. Russell: A Life (vol.1: 1990 – 2107)”
100 words ain’t many. How do you fit a story into so few words? Cut, cut and cut some more. The first draft had a conversation before they ever meet the girl, and the ending was a lot longer too. Chop it back, find ways to fill in the gaps – like the pink Metallica purse and shirt – and trust your readers enough not to need everything spelling out for them.
Why do you like flash fiction? Besides the immediacy of the form and the buzz of producing something so complete in such a short time, there’s also an incredibly warm and supportive network of Flash authors out there, pushing each other to ever greater heights.
Been writing long? I got published in a horror / fantasy fanzine way back in 1991, so I’ve been writing for far too long. I managed to track down a copy recently though and it’s even worse than I remember, so maybe I’ve only been doing it right for the last year or so…
You write anything else? I’ve messed around with screenplays, radio plays and song lyrics in the past and come close to success, but not close enough. I’ve also failed (repeatedly) to place a short comic script with the mighty 2000AD, but one day…
Any advice for other flash writers? Besides the obvious (WRITE!), I’d recommend that everyone with an interest in the form should get hold of the three FlashDogs anthologies. There’s such a range of tales and styles and so many accomplished storytellers (and me…) that you can’t help being inspired to try something new. They’re also great fun on Twitter too.
Any interesting writerly projects in the pipeline? I’m making yet another attempt at finishing my long-gestating novel, Ice Baby, and I’ve sketched out a couple of ideas for my next 2000AD submissions.
I just finished reading a book. Can you recommend another? I’m in holiday mode at the moment so I’m on an easy reading kick, re-reading Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith. It’s a fat, funny, fizzy SF novel that suddenly takes a left turn into something far stranger and more beautiful.
Karl A. Russell
“Civil partnership, is that it?”
“What? No Mum, that’s something else.”
“Oh. Well, what’s that other one then? Humourist or whatever?”
I can’t talk to her, so I look out of the window instead. The smokers in the shelter look like bedraggled birds, waiting to spread dressing-gown wings and soar toward the sun. I wish I hadn’t quit.
“We were partners though.”
I look back, feeling my throat tighten.
“I know Mum. I know.”
She looks like a little bird herself, perched at the bedside. She’s still holding his hand.
“It’s called a humanist ceremony. Yeah, I think he’d like that.”
She smiles through tears.
“Humanist. Yes, that’s right.”
I love Micro Bookends, but sometimes it can be a real struggle to take those words and sandwich a story between them. I might have the perfect story, springing off from the first word and incorporating the picture prompt seamlessly, but winding up about as far from the last word as it’s possible to get. Other times, the first word is so inappropriate for what I want to write that I have to twist myself in knots just to work it in there.
One of the most creative techniques writers use to get round this is the use of speech to fudge the issue. We’ve had misreadings and malapropisms, spoonerisms and speech impediments, all used to great effect, along with variations like Ed Broom’s genius garbled texting tale from my last round of judging.
I wanted to do something similar here, taking the current buzz phrase “civil partnership” and putting it into a completely inappropriate context. A slightly befuddled little old lady seemed the perfect foil, but once I knew what she was talking about, I knew I couldn’t play it for laughs. This woman’s just lost her whole world, and poking fun at her would just be cruel. Once I knew where the characters were and had the image of the smokers, it turned into something a little deeper and a little sadder and a tale I’m very proud of.
Karl A. Russell
Merry Andrew jigs and reels,
A-dancing through the fayre,
To frighten boys
And tug their flowered hair.
In motley caravan he comes,
To sing the summer in,
On potter’s fields
And plague pit mounds,
With revelry and sin.
A powdered face, a rictus grin,
A crown of jangled bells,
But none dare meet
His shadowed eyes,
Nor hear the tale he tells.
For when the dance is over,
And all the sinning’s done,
The tent’s took down,
The earth stripped bare,
To claim them one by one.
And Merry Andrew travels on,
To spread his lies like cancer,
Of summer’s warmth
And endless joy,
That damned infernal prankster.
This is one of those weird times when the history behind the story is considerably more interesting (and much longer) than the story itself…
My first thought, upon seeing the prompt, was “oh yeah…” I love the psychedelic era, both in fact and fiction, and I even met Ken Kesey when the Merry Pranksters brought Further to Liverpool to meet the Magical Mystery Tour Bus, nose to nose in Matthew Street. Been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt and drank the Kool Aid.
So of course, I spent the whole day picking over ideas and couldn’t think of any that I wanted to write. There was a wealth of material, from the Kesey/Angels/Thompson axis to Owsley and The Dead or Timothy Leary and his rumoured FBI ties, and none of it was speaking to me.
A few years back, toying with the idea of writing a historical horror story, I happened upon the character of Merry Andrew. A real person, he was a regular fixture at the Bartholomew Fayre in London and had such a reputation that his name became a byword for clowning antics. He was also suggested to be an ex-doctor, a failed priest and an ally of Oliver Cromwell. Even if that was proven to be false, the idea of a man with that background disappearing for a week or two every year to play the fool at a decadent, semi-pagan Summer fair was intriguing.
Add that to the fact that the whole thing was staged on top of a plague pit, in the shadow of Newgate Prison, when London life was especially short, brutish and difficult for the average working man and woman and it was a pretty rich mix. The Fayre ran for 700 years before it was shut down for being too rowdy, so I like to imagine a succession of failed holy men and disgraced doctors being possessed by the same roving spirit of frivolity, forcing them to abase themselves in public and encouraging the proles to drunken debauchery for some unknown but deeply suspect reasons. I had half a novel plotline worked out for it before I gave up, moved on to something else and forgot all about him.
I had pretty much given up on entering this week when I thought of him again, and everything clicked into place. Of course, there was no way to cram all of that into 110 words, but the first line reminded me of the classic folk song “She Moves Through The Fair” (by lots of different people, but the Fairport Convention version is my favourite) and that was that: I had to write it as a poem / song / whatever.
And never mind that it was stupidly late at night, I’m awful at poetry and nothing in the English language actually rhymes with prankster…
Karl A. Russell
“Carry the tent first, then the beers.”
Simon sighed, hefted the tent and plunged into the freezing mud. Jay grinned.
“I’ll take the rucksack, then piggyback you across, yeah?”
The girl in the pink Metallica shirt giggled drunkenly.
It took a while, but she was eventually ferried to dry land. Jay and Simon slogged on towards the Pyramid Stage.
Simon sighed deeply.
“That was wrong.”
“Let it go, man! You want a clear conscience, the Krishnas do free lentil curry… Or…”
He pulled out a pink Metallica purse and checked the contents.
“We can get burgers and beers before the Foos start.”
Simon’s stomach gurgled muddily.
Singing! As the picture seemed to show a festival camp site, I initially tried to think of a lyric containing the first bookend. Carry On My Wayward Son and Bohemian Rhapsody were a couple of possibilities, but when I hit Carry That Weight by The Beatles, I flashed on the old Zen Koan of two monks carrying a woman across a river. Obviously, the guys in the picture weren’t monks, so the question became “what will be weighing on the younger guy’s mind?” The rest of the story flowed from there.