BackStory: Five Questions with Donna L Greenwood
Author of Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me
What inspired you to write ‘Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me’?
I read about something called the ‘harem effect’ which refers to a male scientist in a position of power hiring female subordinates for his research team – colloquially know as a ‘harem’. It happened in the nineteenth and early twentieth century (perhaps it still happens today). I was particularly interested in ‘Pickering’s Harem’ a team of women employed by Edward Charles Pickering to process astronomical data. Although some of these women were astronomy graduates, they were paid the same wage as unskilled workers, in other words, they were cheap labour. The invisibility and possession loaded within the term ‘Pickering’s Women’ made me seethe slightly on behalf these incredibly intelligent and strong women. One woman in particular, Annie Jump Cannon, really fired my imagination. Annie was almost profoundly deaf and her job was to classify the stars. The image of this silent woman working without glory counting the stars really touched my soul. But don’t think that Annie was a victim – she most certainly wasn’t. She was a fiercely intelligent scientist and feminist who is credited with creating the Harvard Classification Scheme and her division of stars into the spectral classes – OBAFGKM (Oh Be a Fine Girl Kiss Me) is still used today.
What are your favourite pieces of historical flash? What do you like about them?
The first piece of historical flash I ever read was ‘Ogdens’ by Gaynor Jones which won second place in Flashback Fiction’s microfiction comp in 2018. I was spellbound by the concise way that Gaynor perfectly encapsulated a moment in time. I loved the way it made history (in Gaynor’s case, Britain during the war) so poignantly personal. This inspired me to greedily consume other writing published by Flashback Fiction. I’ve loved too many pieces to mention but one that sticks in my mind for being utterly sumptuous is ‘The Arnolfini Funeral’ by Jan Kaneen. Jan’s rich and beautiful prose takes a segment of history and weaves a rich and sensual life into it. The added bonus of Flashback is you can hear the writers read their stories and that makes the whole process so much more intimate.
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?
I love it when I get an idea. This usually happens at the most inappropriate times – I’m either asleep, having dinner with friends, in the bath or shopping! When that happens, I have to drop everything (shopping, shampoo bar, knife and fork) or wake up and write that idea down. Too many times I’ve thought ‘Oh, I’ll jot it down later’, only to find, when I finally pick up pen and paper, I’ve forgotten the whole thing. The idea is what gives me ‘the buzz’. I love it. The first outpouring of the story always feels like it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. When I’ve finished it, I am so flipping pleased with myself! And then I go back and read it a few days later and…oh dear, it’s not quite the masterpiece I’d imagined. But then comes the editing – the sculpting of the story – and, for me, that’s just as much fun. I think the only thing I don’t like about writing is submitting my work. It’s like sending my baby off to some unknown foster parent. What will become of her? Will they love her like I do? Will they even acknowledge that I’ve sent her?
If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?
This is a tricky question for a woman. The further back in time you go the more invisible and powerless women were. So I think I would have to go back thousands of years to pre-patriarchal times when women ruled the world (if I’m playing fast and loose with history – well, whose history is it, really?).
What do you think is the most challenging and/or rewarding aspect of writing historical flash?
I am very new to writing historical flash and I honestly thought it wasn’t for me. My usual genre is horror and weird stuff so I’ve always imagined that writing a historical piece would be too difficult, too restrictive. The first piece of historical fiction I wrote was about Shakespeare’s daughter, Judith, and, whilst it didn’t make it to publication, I found that I really enjoyed the whole process of researching a real person and their historical period. I loved trying to see the world through Judith’s eyes and giving her a voice. ‘Oh Be a Fine Girl Kiss Me’ is my second attempt at historical flash and I am thrilled that Flashback have accepted it for publication. Once again, for me, part of writing both pieces was about giving a voice to women in history whose voices so far have been muted, if not silenced.
Donna L Greenwood lives in Lancashire, England. She writes flash fiction, short stories and poetry whilst attempting to teach teenagers about fronted adverbials. She has recently won several writing competitions including Horror Scribes ‘Trapped Flash’, Molotov Cocktail’s ‘Flash Legends’ and the 2019 STORGY flash fiction competition. Her story ‘The Big Striptease’, published by Splonk magazine, was included in 2019 BIFFY50.
Image of main sequence star classifications courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.