Some years ago during one of the dull seasons—our work was very much on the seasonal side—my Waterstones branch entered a Book Tokens company competition on ‘opening lines’. We had to identify the opening lines of various more-or-less famous novels. We also had to come up with an opening line of our own. For whatever reason, ‘I’d been prodding the Frenchman with my boot all day to see if he was dead’ was the egg that my subconscious laid and we used that. It bothered me a little, it itched, and I knew that I wanted to make a story from it some time. Much later, the story suddenly came to me in the shower; at that time most of my best ideas, such as they were, seemed to emerge under hot water. I used to covet a pen with ink that would hold to the watery tiles, but that could be wiped away later. Anyhow, I called the store manager and asked if I could take the morning off so that I could write the short, the very short story I had in mind. I was the assistant-manager by then, I had an awful lot of holiday in hand, it was another dull season, so he (I imagine) shrugged and nodded: ‘Take the week for all I care.’
I wrote the story and set it aside for more years until it was published today, having been accepted in January. You can read it, if you like, at Spelk, an online flash fiction magazine. It’s called ‘You must eat your boots first‘.
If you don’t already know, flash fiction is a sub-category of the short story and is variously defined as being under 1,000 or, say, 500 words in length; it can be shorter. It’s supposed to be snappish and surprising, as you’d expect. Some writers specialize in it. Here’s something about it.
We won the Book Tokens competition: the prize was a case of wine, drunk long before the story was written.
Paul Fishman (Bristol, April 2015)
Header image: Howard Pyle (1853–1911) Marooned (1909). Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
A spelk, in northeast England, is a splinter of wood–a tiny little sliver or shard embedded under the skin. Without getting too pretentious, we think there’s probably some kind of analogy there–we like flash fiction that’s short and sharp, that gets under your skin and leaves an impression. That, and we just happen to like the word.