BackStory: Five Questions with Peter Jordan
Author of Gutshot
What do you like most about writing flash fiction?
The suggestion: the bits left out, or not mentioned. If there’s a second story running under the surface that’s merely alluded to (or not mentioned at all), then all the better. It expands the piece exponentially in the mind of the reader. Also, if you can indirectly create an emotional response in a reader through an action or object then it feels like you’ve achieved something. Indirectly is the key here; you’re simply writing the narrative from a remove, with no opinion, the reader does the rest.
I think all literary fiction requires an emotional response. If you can get a reader to stop completely, and wonder, after reading a short piece of prose then you’re on to something.
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
I had a Comanche hunting party after the same buffalo herd but it all became a bit too crowded. Too many characters in a flash piece confuses the reader. If I’m writing a 300 word piece the first draft is usually around 500 words, so there’s a lot taken out.
I did add two words when I thought it was finally finished: ‘taut’ and ‘hard’. The ‘taut’ white belly of the buffalo gave a better visual image as the bullet rips through it. And ‘hard’ gallop as the herd disappears, was better than merely using the single word gallop, again providing more powerful imagery (and a greater sense of urgency to the reader), I think.
I love the use of what Hemingway and Carver described as concrete words — and ‘hard’ and ‘taut’ are concrete words. They’re so simple yet make such a difference. I love the minimalist style of both those writers. I could never read a story from a writer who has swallowed a thesaurus. I do use a thesaurus, but only for alternative words that are in my everyday vocabulary.
What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?
PTSD. I drank and drugged for years. I was first resuscitated at the age of 19 and survived a brain tumour at 30. Thankfully I’m on the mend and on the wagon.
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?
Writing is hell. Not writing is hell. And, even when I’ve finished a complete piece, and possibly had the good fortune to have it published, I’m always quite sure I could have made it better — maybe that’s just some affliction, like perfectionism — whatever it is, it steals some of the pride and happiness from the process.
If you could have three historical figures over for dinner, who would they be?
Anton Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield and Albert Einstein. Einstein thought exclusively in images, not words, and I have a particular fascination with this. It’s common to people with ASD and/or dyslexia. Because of my own dyslexia I also think exclusively in images, it informs my writing.
Peter Jordan won last year’s Bare Fiction prize, came second in the Fish Flash and was shortlisted for the Bridport. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary magazines, including Thresholds, Litro, and The Nottingham Review. His début short story collection White Goods will be published in April 2018. You will find him on twitter @pm_jordan.