BackStory: Five Questions with Santino Prinzi
Author of The Landmines Up Near Sapper Hill Sing
What inspired you to write ‘The Landmines Up Near Sapper Hill Sing’?
I don’t usually write historical fiction, but I have recently read a few historical novels and I have been a reader of Flashback Fiction for a while now, too. I’m not usually a fan of war stories, either – you can thank GCSE and A-Level English for that – but the characters of Glynn and Yousef came to me one day, and I knew that war was in their lives but they hadn’t served themselves. When I started looking into the Falklands war, other aspects of the story began to emerge and fall into line.
Who are your favourite historical fiction writers (flash or otherwise) and why?
I enjoyed The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, but I fell in love with The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. Both books for me were gripping, had that feeling of being transported to another moment in time that I like when reading historical fiction, but also were imaginative and inventive enough to feel like something completely unfamiliar. I had the same experience while reading Kate Atkinson’s Transcription. I’ve just started reading The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey and I’m absolutely hooked for the same reasons.
How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?
A fair amount, not so much about the war itself but about the Falklands as a place. I think the pub was the most surprising element. The saxophone beer pump is very much a real object, as is the name of the pub and the image of the flags. When I pictured Glynn and Yousef in the Falklands, I didn’t imagine writing a story where they were sitting in the pub. When I saw the image of the pub, I could feel it teem with history. I knew then this would be the primary setting. The story would be about the aftermath of the main event, the way history affects our present and our future.
What do you like most about writing flash?
That’s difficult to answer. I would say I like that a complete story can be told in so few words, but understood in the wider context of what’s left unsaid, of what actions aren’t undertaken. It’s a form that expects the reader to work hard. It refuses to give you all the answers. It’s a form that allows for experimentation, a form that, once any definitions are established, defies these definitions because flash fiction authors are always trying something new. I enjoy writing it because it isn’t a form that says, ‘stop, you can’t do that,’ and none of us need any of those unhelpful voices.
How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?
The idea of historical accuracy is interesting because how accurately has history itself been recorded? Who by and with what bias, if any? I’m certainly not in a position to ask these questions, let alone entertain an answer. All I can say is that I don’t usually write historical fiction, so historical accuracy isn’t something that always comes to the forefront of my mind when writing, but something that does is the human experience in each story. I think that’s what helps a story ring true, that little authentic piece of what it means to be human.
Santino Prinzi is a Co-Director of National Flash Fiction Day in the UK, a Consulting Editor for New Flash Fiction Review, and is one of the founding organisers of the annual Flash Fiction Festival. His flash fiction pamphlet, There’s Something Macrocosmic About All of This (2018), is available from V-Press.
Image detail from photograph by Apcbg, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.