BackStory: Five Questions with Rob Walton
Author of Three Hundred and Eighty Five Yards
What inspired you to write “Three Hundred and Eighty Five Yards”?
I’ve always been interested in the Olympics, and especially the Marathon. As a child, my sporting dream would have been to enter the Olympic Stadium in first place with twenty six miles behind me. As Conan Doyle wrote about the 1908 race, “He must be very near now, speeding down the streets between the lines of shouting people. We can hear the growing murmur. Every eye is on the gap…”
I was aware of the iconic picture of Dorando Pietri being unfairly assisted, and knew that some people mistakenly believed Conan Doyle to be one of those offering help. I loved the story and the romantic failure, and the subsequent award of a special gold trophy. The other character, the missing ingredient, probably arrived during a Parkrun, no doubt showing me a clean pair of sponsored heels.
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
There are lots of interesting facts about the race itself in Rebecca Jenkins’ book, The First London Olympics 1908. These days there are probably fewer cases of top-class athletes having strychnine and champagne at feeding stations! I also recently bought Olympic Games through a lens, which has a great photograph of a toastmaster in a top hat brandishing an outsized megaphone. He addressed the crowd in the White City stadium, and may make an appearance in the 1000-word version!
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?
I love editing to a specific word count, whether that’s 100 or 500. A few years ago, I would have been horrified at the idea of ‘killing my babies’, but now I love the chance to rid the story of the superfluous, the extraneous, the unnecessary repetitions which crop up again and again and again, and the repeated long-winded perambulations. For this particular piece, I’d have to say I enjoyed coming out on the other side after brilliant editorial challenges. I’ve had many flashes published exactly as I submitted them. For this, I was guided with great care and sensitivity to really nail aspects, which weren’t originally clear enough.
My least favourite part of the writing process is trying to decipher my own writing, when I’ve scribbled down a brilliant idea after a beery night out.
If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?
I’m going to go for 1948 in the UK. A big part of my anti-consumerist personality would feel quite at home with post-war austerity. There were obvious interesting social changes, such as the birth of the NHS and the nationalisation of the railways. Also, I’d get myself tickets to see Fanny Blankers-Koen, the ‘Flying Dutchwoman’ at the second London Olympics. She was an incredibly important figure in women’s sport and it would be great to see her win her four gold medals.
What do you like most about writing flash?
I love the fact that some flashes arrive almost fully-formed. I also love finding the character, phrase or other element to tie some of the more tantalising pieces together. I generate quite a lot of ideas that are almost there, and love it when I work out how to unlock the difficult part. I’ve probably had the key the whole time. I’ve just been using it to try to lock the fridge, rather than opening the back door.
Scunthorpe-born and Tyneside-based, Rob Walton has flash fictions published by Paper Swans, Spelk, Number Eleven, Flash Frontier (NZ), Pygmy Giant, Paragraph Planet, Ham, Ink, Sweat & Tears and others. He won National Flash Fiction Day’s 2015 micro-fiction competition. He also writes poetry for adults and children and co-authored the New Hartley Memorial Pathway. Find him on Twitter at @anicelad and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rob.walton.5439.
Image of Dorando Pietri being helped over the line by officials at the London 1908 Olympic Games courtesy of The Public Domain Review (where an excerpt from Conan Doyle’s article for the Daily Mail can also be found).