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Flash of Inspiration

March 6th, 2020

My children’s novel has been quietly simmering on a back burner for eight years. Last year I decided a writing course would help stir it up. Check it wasn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan (whilst working on my extended metaphors). So I enrolled on a Writers Bureau course, and seven modules in, I still look forward to every assignment. But the course has stirred up more than I’d anticipated. It’s given me an itch to write just for the sake of writing. This is how I found flash fiction. And I’m a little bit besotted.

Six months ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what flash fiction was. So where has this infatuation come from? For me, it’s the ability of the genre to capture fleeting inspiration and either hold it within its tiny frame, or let it grow into something new.

The idea of doing a ‘writing exercise’ as an activity in itself has never appealed to me before now. I’ve always needed a bigger picture: a goal or a deadline. However, a friend and I recently decided we would write something weekly and share it with each other. It could be a character profile, short story, or a piece of flash fiction. Anything that came to mind. We’ve named it Fiction Fridays. Although enthusiastic, I wondered if I would have the weekly inclination to write something that had nothing to do with either my coursework, or my slow-cooked, slightly neglected novel. Come on, I told myself, you’re trying to be a writer – so write!

We take turns to find a prompt – a word, phrase or photo. Then we write. We’ve discovered neurotic characters, abandoned places and secret childhoods. Some characters and places reappear after a few weeks if we’re not ready to let them go, others make us smile and are then forgotten.

One prompt that my friend chose was a photo of three cats eating pasta from a carrier bag. Where could I go with this? Well, I went for a shower. And when I came out it had become screamingly obvious to me that these were stray Parisian cats, taken on by an old homeless lady, who wasn’t really homeless at all, but rather wealthy, who had secrets she needed to keep. Flash fiction pounced and captured my story. But after it was written, I still found myself frantically scribbling ideas, and ordering second-hand books about Paris in the 1960s. Two months later, the pasta-eating cats are still with me, but now as an idea for a novel.

So one of the things I’m learning as I embark on my writing journey, is that inspiration is a strange guest, who knocks on your door at unexpected times, and can stay for months or moments. So it’s best to leave the door open so it can come and go as it pleases. Or get a cat flap. (I really need to work on my metaphors.)

Ruth Clarke-Irons is an actor-musician and stay-at-home mum who has recently turned to writing as a creative outlet. After discovering flash fiction, she is absolutely thrilled to have placed third in the Writers Bureau Flash Fiction 2019 competition. Ruth lives in Kingston-Upon-Thames with her husband and two daughters.

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