Interviews, Uncategorized

“Writing Flash Feels New Again”: John Wheway on Surrendering to the Muse

John

I had the pleasure of meeting John Wheway in person at the Bath Flash Fiction Festival last July, and Kathy Fish and I are just thrilled that he will be joining us in Casperia, Italy, next May! 

Nancy Stohlman: The biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?

John Wheway: I have few claims on my time, so my challenge is to surrender to the muse rather than carve out hours. Writing happens mostly every day, at almost any time.   Writing in the bath, I hardly notice when the water that almost scalded my skin starts giving me wrinkles. Writing in the small hours on my iPad (favourite writing tool since typewriters disappeared) absorbs me like my childhood devouring of books under the sheets by torchlight.  On walks, the enticement to write can maroon me in the middle of a field. Surrender is the thing, being willing, any time, anywhere, to write.

Nancy: I love that, and I’m amazed that you can write in the bath! Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction. Have you always written short or is this a new endeavor for you?

John: At twelve, I wrote a 400 word prose piece. I’d never read anything of that length, so I guess I invented flash privately for myself. In my early twenties, I drafted an experimental novel which didn’t quite work, but from which I rescued and shaped fragments, which became ‘The Green Table of Infinity’ (Anvil Press, London, 1972). Like much flash, they sit on the fence between story and poem. After this, I neither wrote nor published for many years. When I felt moved to write again, one manual that helped was Roberta Allen’s ‘Five Minute Fictions,’ which prompted over a hundred pieces of Flash. But I didn’t revise, didn’t publish them. I turned to writing poems instead. Meanwhile, Jude Higgins, my wife, plunged into writing and promoting flash.  I peered over her shoulder, but it’s taken time for me to exchange the sentence for the line as the primary unit of composition. Seeing the spectacular things Lydia Davis and our friend Meg Pokrass could do with the form is a constant inspiration. Writing flash feels new again. In the book I’ve begun to write about childhood, poems and flash together will form the texture of the weave.

Nancy: “Writing flash feels new again”–I just love that. You are also part of the Bath Flash Fiction Festival, which I was thrilled to attend this past July. What has been your biggest learning as part of the team responsible for the success of such a dynamic gathering of writers? 

John: To be accurate, I wasn’t officially part of the Festival team, but being the director’s husband, I learned I must endure like Atlas.  I enjoyed hosting Meg Pokrass at our house, and also my young friend, David McCormick, a volunteer. And the festival each time has been like a garden coming into bloom.

Nancy: A beautiful garden, I might add! This is not your first time to Italy, or even your first time to the tiny town of Casperia! Can you share with the rest of us what you most liked/remembered about being in Casperia?

John: Wonderful eating places tucked into farms and hamlets – homely, hospitable, but each with its unique, exquisite antipasti. A terrace over a steep valley with cafes for watching people (and goats – were there goats?).  During wild days of thunder, lightning and deluge, holed up in our rented cottage, I dug out Saramago’s ‘All the Names’ from a bookshelf.  I read, deafened to the storm. By the last page, the storm-clouds blew away.

Nancy: It sounds so incredible–I can’t wait! So now react to this quote by Italian writer Italo Calvino: ” “Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” 

John: As for cities, so for ourselves.  Waking up is hard to do.

Nancy: What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it (if it’s available)?

John: I tend to think pride, like shame, disrupts the non-judgmental openness writing requires. I might be willing to say, I’m proud to persist at writing –  but edited, this comes out as ‘I persist at writing,’ which is an improvement, don’t you think?  I’m pleased and grateful to have learned recently that my poetry collection ‘A Bluebottle in Late October’ is to be published.  There are links to already published poems and flash on my website ‘johnwheway.com‘ where you can also order copies of my vintage prose chapbook ‘The Green Table of Infinity’.

Nancy: That’s fantastic, congratulations!! Tell us something we don’t know about you? 

John: I’m probably two inches taller than Beethoven.

Nancy: Anything else you want to add? 

John: Many yet-to-be-written poems and fictions.

John Wheway’s poems have appeared in New Measure, Stand, Magma, The Warwick Review, Poetry Review, the Yellow Nib, Poetry Quarterly, the Compass Magazine, South Word, Agenda, and the High Window, in three Templar anthologies and in The Echoing Gallery from Redcliffe Press. His flash fiction has appeared in Flash Flood 2017, Flash Flood 2018, and Flash Fiction Festival One (Ad Hoc Fiction – 2017). Anvil Press poetry published his chapbook The Green Table of Infinity, and Faber and Faber published his novella Poborden. He has a Creative Writing MA from Bath Spa University. His poetry collection, A Bluebottle in Late October, is to be published in 2020.

Join us in Casperia, Italy, in May 2019~

Interviews, Uncategorized

Oliver Barton on Intuition, Inhibition, and Listening to Your Inner Creative Child

Oliver Barton

Oliver Barton will be joining Kathy Fish and I in the beautiful hills of Casperia, Italy, next May! I got a chance to chat with Oliver a bit about his writing process and how to stay in touch with the creative inner child and a sense of play while making art.

Nancy Stohlman: The biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?

Oliver Barton: Time is not the real issue with me; my enemy is prevarication. One way I combat it is to repair to a café. There I can sit in the isolation of the babble of voices and lose myself in whatever I’m trying to write. I like to write in longhand there so as to be entirely divorced from the temptations of the web. Otherwise, there is the time before getting up, lying in bed letting a story unfold…

Nancy: You said to me recently, “A wonderful thing about writing is you never quite know what’s going to emerge from the miasma of your brain!” I love it! Tell us more about your relationship with writing and flash fiction?

Oliver: In a writing group we run, as an exercise, we give ourselves ten minutes and a more-or-less randomly chosen trigger, and simply write. No time to have second thoughts or to plan, just to get going and see what happens. And nearly always people end up with a beginning, a middle and an end that they never expected. Wonderful! Let the right-side of the brain take over – is that it? It is no big deal if the piece is rubbish, it doesn’t matter. So we don’t worry about it and most of the time little gems and an extraordinary variety result!

Nancy: Yes, I do something similar–creative play! What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it (if it’s available)?

Oliver: Today, I think I’m most proud of The Signpost, (https://www.dropbox.com/s/shyd0un7fo0rt8o/The%20Signpost.pdf?dl=0).

Nancy: Wonderful! Now react to this quote by Edgar Degas: “Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” Do you think it’s the same for writing? 

Oliver: A dreadful little rhyme we used to chant in the playground when I was very young and which we thought exceedingly funny comes to mind:
See the happy moron,
He doesn’t give a damn.
I wish I were a moron –
I say, perhaps I am.
As a child, anything goes until the great adult world says, ‘No, you should do it like this,’ and inhibition and embarrassment sets in. The lesson for me, and perhaps from what Dégas said, is to use your experience and knowledge and skill to present what the inner child wants to say.

Nancy: I love what you just said about inhibition and embarrassment as the real enemies to our inner child’s wisdom–I agree. Have you been to Italy before? What are you most looking forward to?

Oliver: Yes. Thrice to the Castello Sannazzaro in Giarole, where we sang Renaissance polyphony for a week, and a trip to Ostia Antica and Rome. What better place to let the writing flow, along with the wine! Who knows what will result.

Nancy: Wow!! Tell us something (else!) we don’t know about you?

Oliver: I once toured with an opera group playing the part of the Betrayer in the Guise of a Dog while suffering from Shingles.

Nancy: I adore opera. Maybe you’ll sing for us in that big castle in Italy??? Anything else you want to add?

Oliver: I have a website, www.musicolib.net/index.html, which currently is music that I’ve published (online), much of which I wrote and also houses archives of the Green Branch Opera Group.

Nancy: Thanks so much for taking the time, Oliver! I look forward to seeing you again in May!

JOIN US in Italy in May 2019! Find out more:

Oliver Barton used to write Computer User Manuals, but having retired, now prefers to replace writing facts that nobody reads with producing whimsical fiction that lots of people enjoy! In a previous existence as a Maths teacher, he wrote and directed two full-length plays, and he has composed a number of musical pieces, mostly for choir, which have received performances in widely-flung places around the world. They are freely available from his web-site, www.musicolib.net. He and his wife Cath have published two slim volumes of stories and photos, available from Lulu – Candyfloss, and Candyfloss II. They run two writing groups, which keep them in trim as writers and provide inspiration and encouragement to other local writers. In his writing, he seeks to bring a wry touch to the commonplace activities of everyday life – “in the ordinary is the extraordinary.” Frequently, angels and bad-tempered mythical beings such as garden gnomes creep in, despite his best endeavours. He has assembled a collection “Away with the Fairies,” where they have taken over, and has a novel, “Mouse” currently maturing between revisions.
Interviews, Uncategorized

Tim Degani on Travel, Creativity, and Getting Out of Your Wheelhouse

Tim Stonehenge

Kathy Fish and I are excited that Tim Degani will be joining us in Costa Rica this January! We chatted about our mutual love of travel and why it’s so important…

Nancy Stohlman: I know you have done ton a lot of traveling-what have been some of your favorite destinations? Have you been to Costa Rica before?

Tim Degani: Yes, since I retired a few years ago Gay and I try to take at least one international trip a year.  One of my favorite places to visit was Peru, the food was fabulous and the vistas were unlike anything we have ever seen.  Machu Picchu is a place of stunning beauty and awe inspiring grandeur.  We were fortunate enough to stay at the Sanctuary Lodge which is the only hotel that borders the park, a place I would highly recommend.  There is a tremendous sense of tranquility and the orchids are just what one would expect in a tropical forest.  The altitude can be a challenge so take the oxygen and coca infused tea when offered upon arriving in Cusco.  The Inca craftsmanship and artistry cannot be ignored in their exquisite architecture and blanket weaving which can be found throughout the Sacred Valley.

We have not been to Costa Rica so I am looking forward to an amazing trip.

Nancy: Wow–I’m jealous! That sounds amazing. Creativity comes to people in different ways. How are you creative?

Tim: I spent my career in the aerospace industry working in various finance positions, so I am not considered a creative person and certainly not one as defined by the arts.  I am an engineer by education and my creativity, if it can be called that, is in solving problems and finding ways to accomplish projects that are functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.  I do enjoy all of the arts and am currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach California.

Nancy: I DO think solving problems is creative–I would also put the sciences into the creativity basket as well. Now you are coming to Costa Rica with your wife, Gay Degani, who is a writer. What’s it like being married to a writer?  

Tim: As long as I give her plenty of room to do her own thing, we get along great after 44 years of marriage.

Nancy: Ha! Exactly. What are you most looking forward to about your time in Playa Negra?  

Tim: I look forward to several days of relaxing in a tropical environment and partaking of some of the many outdoor activities offered.  I am thinking maybe horseback riding, snorkeling, riverboat cruise, or visiting a rain forest.

Nancy: Sounds perfect. You know that Playa Negra has some of the best surfing as well, right? Now react to this quote by the (now) late Anthony Bourdin: “Without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, and moribund.”

Tim: I couldn’t agree more; in order to stay mentally agile you need to experience life and all it has to offer.  I don’t think I could or would go to the extremes he went to (like traveling to Iran), nor eat the more exotic foods he devoured.  I do enjoy going to and trying out new experiences that are outside of your wheel house.  It helps to put your life into perspective.

Nancy: I agree. Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Tim: Well just about everything I suppose.  I am a native of Los Angeles, Ca, attended Hollywood high school and tried out unsuccessfully for the Dodgers.

Nancy: Wow! Anything else you want to add?

Tim: By now, you probably have heard enough from me.

Nancy: Thank you for your time, Tim! I’m looking forward to meeting you soon!

Want to join us in Costa Rica? We have 1 little cabina available: Find out more!

Interviews

Cath Barton on Saying Yes! to the Challenge of Writing

Author pic.CathBarton

Cath Barton has not only released her first book, The Plankton Collector, but she will be joining Kathy Fish and I in Casperia, Italy, in May! Cath and I chat about novellas, flash fiction, and the beauty of a good writing challenge.

Nancy Stohlman: The biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?

Cath Barton: I am actually lucky – I retired from the day job some years back so my time is my own. My challenge is to discipline myself! Sometimes I get up very early to write, though the pressure of a deadline can have me writing at all hours. My husband (who is also a writer, and also coming on retreat next May) built a wonderful room at the bottom of our garden – when I really need to focus on a story I’m writing I work down there on a laptop with no internet access.

Nancy: You are no stranger to flash fiction. How have you seen it evolve since you first started writing it?

Cath: Gosh, there is so much flash fiction being written now, and so much that is so good. And yet you’ll still hear people – writers even – asking – What’s flash fiction? Of course it covers so much, but one thing I’ve learnt is that if every word counts in a short story, every word that’s understood counts in a flash. I really got that from your Sculpting Flash Fiction course, Nancy.

Nancy: Aw, thanks for saying so, Cath. It was such a pleasure to work with you! And congratulations! You have a novella just out, ‘The Plankton Collector’. Tell us a little about the impetus for the book.

Cath: Thank you! At the beginning of 2015 a fellow member of a local writing group came out with a challenge for the group – Who’s going to write a novella this year? I found myself putting my hand up, even though I hadn’t thought about such a thing before that moment. I do like a challenge! So I did it.

Nancy: Wow, I love that! The Plankton Collector is your first book – so exciting! What advice would you have for another writer working on their first book?

Cath: It is exciting! And I’m so fortunate to get a book published. I entered my novella in a competition and won, with part of the prize being publication. The thing is though, that if you love to write, that needs to be your primary impulse, rather than the hope of publication. I read this just yesterday – “In the end people will judge you anyway, so don’t live your life impressing others, live your life impressing yourself.” I do so agree with that.

Nancy: React to this quote by Joseph Chilton Pearce: “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”

Cath: If you are moved to create, the thing you create is neither right not wrong, it just is. You have to work to make it your best of course. But no-one else can create that thing – that story, in the case of a writer. Only you can write your story. We each have to find our own voice, and learn to trust it.

Nancy: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Cath: I’m not a very manually dexterous person, but I love doing origami, creating little boxes and other 3-D forms out of sheets of paper – it’s magic.

Nancy: Wow. The things we find out in these interviews! Anything else you want to add? 

Cath: Just that I’m really looking forward to writing – and eating, and drinking!  – with you all in Italy next Spring! Perhaps I’ll slip some origami paper into my luggage too…

Nancy: Please do!

Cath Barton is an English writer who lives in Wales. Her prize-winning debut novella The Plankton Collector is published by New Welsh Review under their Rarebyte imprint. Cath is on the 2018 Literature Wales Mentoring programme, working on a collection of short stories inspired by the work of Flemish artist Hieronymus Bosch. https://cathbarton.com @CathBarton1

(BTW Read Kathy Fish’s review of The Plankton Collector’s here)

Join us in Italy this May!

Interviews

Nancy Stohlman Interviewed at New Flash Fiction Review

Meg Pokrass recently interviewed Nancy at New Flash Fiction Review regarding her two stories in the New Micro anthology, her terrific, soon-to-be released book, Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities, our flash fiction retreats, and more.

Below is an excerpt:

MP: Congratulations on your new collection, MADAM VELVET’S CABARET OF ODDITIES! Can you tell us why the world of circus life, the world of clowns, and side-show oddities and performers became your focus?

NS: Thank you! And so many ways to answer this question! So, I’ve been on stage since I was very little in one way or another. Actually my very first memory is of being wheeled around the Barnum and Bailey circus ring (with some other kids picked from the audience) by clowns. I remember the feeling of spotlights so bright I couldn’t see my parents in the audience at all, and I remember the clowns talking to each other like regular people and it occurred to me that they were regular people. Then when I was about 10 my mother actually became a clown (she was nothing like the clown in the book) and used to recruit us to come “clown” with her: at the retirement community, at the town picnics and parades and such. I loved recognizing my friends from school and realizing they had no idea who I was when I was in clown makeup.

But maybe the biggest impetus to write this book was the years I spent traveling with the Renaissance Festival. It was a weird and wonderful American pastoral time—I was in my early 20s, I lived in a van and traveled all over the country, city to city—I’ve been to 47 states. And I’ve tried to write about those years many times—I wrote a bad (unpublished) novel called American Gypsy years ago. But as I said earlier, I have an aversion to telling a story straight—I have to come at it slant. And considering the reality of this/that life is pretty crazy to begin with, it took me a long time to find the right back door into the material.

You can read the rest of the interview HERE.