Flash Frontier

Feature: Savage, and the NFFD 2024 winning story

Interviews and Features

‘Brother’ is the 2024 winner of the National Flash Fiction Day competition. We asked the author to share a bit about background, inspiration and writing techniques and flow.


On screenwriting and the start of this story

SavageI have a screenwriting background but I hadn’t written anything for eight years. Fortunately, about a month before the deadline I was paired up with a writer during a conservation volunteer day out at Whatipū. As we walked through the sand dunes looking for pest plants, we ended up talking about our writing. Or, in my case, my lack of writing. She encouraged me to enter NFFD. I had never heard of the competition before and hadn’t realised there was a whole community of short story writers. It sounded just what I needed and something I might have time to do with all the other things happening in my life.

I set out to write three stories but in the end decided to only enter two. I was playing around with different styles and genres for each but ran out of time to get the last one to work. I actually had more fun with the other story I entered in part because it came much quicker and I played around with the length of each paragraph just to challenge myself. It was far more playful in tone and with its language.

For ‘Brother’ there are some screenwriting elements involved. The opening and closing lines or scenes that bookend the story. One of the first thing I learned many years ago was that a short film still has structure just as much as a feature film. And for this story I also wanted named characters rather than a first-person monologue. Toward the end of the writing I also decided the father was a minor character but that his name for obvious reasons wasn’t important.


On writing flash fiction

I used to be a member of the Piha Writers Group when I lived there and we used to write quick short stories as exercises before and during each meeting. So that was really my training ground for flash fiction. I went back to look at the stories I wrote during that time and I was surprised how many there were. It is nice to go back and read stories I had forgotten ever existed. To see what worked and what didn’t. To realise some on them were actually not half bad.

The story itself, ‘Brother’, has been over ten years in the making. The opening lines, the opening couplet, ‘I fall often . . . ‘, I wrote a long time ago. I don’t remember when. It was just me riffing off the meaning and metaphor of ‘falling’. I had filed it away at the back of my mind for a later date as a possible opening line for some story or perhaps a poem.

I was visiting Waiheke one weekend in April, in ‘the fall’, so decided to try and write at least one story while I was there. I went out for a walk up and down the hills at Oneroa and that opening line, or a version of it, came back to me. Perhaps the walking brought it back. I wrote the core elements of the story in my mind as I walked to the village and back. By the time I got back I had Leighton’s name as a character who helped the narrator and the closing line and the idea of being arrested in Alabama. I just let what was on my mind at the time come out and then scribbled it down on paper when I got back to where we were staying. Then re-drafted it several times over the next few weeks. I was still editing it until half an hour before the deadline. It probably changed about ten times in the last few hours and even then I had to just stop and hit send. I could tell that I was starting to over-work it.


On songs and rhythms of our times

I appreciated the judges saying this story reminded them of a song. I hadn’t really thought of it like that but I am influenced a lot by lyricists and I am have spent more time reading song lyrics than poetry. Some of New Zealand’s best writers are our song writers.

I like that the meaning of a word can be the twists and turns of story just as much as an event or a decision. That is the playfulness and fun of prose writing compared to writing for the screen.

The rhythm and sound of words and sentences and the flow of language is something I really enjoy. And it fitted Selina’s personality to have her words and her emotions shifting in tone as she sized up the situation she was in.

Her predicament in the story grew out of another simple play on the different meaning of the word ‘state’. And the alliteration of ‘Alabama’ and ‘arrested’. I was also staying with a psychologist who specialises in people suffering trauma and, as she and I always do, we were also talking about politics and what has been happening in the USA. So that became suffused into the story as I walked along. I spend a lot of time reading about and watching what is happening there and like so many others it really concerns me.

I just let all of that become part of the character’s world. As her character materialised so did her mixed emotions and her way with words.


On embracing ‘undoneness’

For ‘Brother’ I took the writer Annie Dillard and the poet Ani De Franco’s advice. To just let the lines of words lead the way. To follow it where it led me. Then to just put it out into the world ‘in all its undoneness’.


Winning the competition has been a nice surprise and an encouragement to keep writing. To put some stories out into the world and let them be what they are.  I am thankful for two sunny days in April. For that first wander through the sand dunes at Whatipū. And for that morning walk on Waiheke Island when I remembered an opening line I had already written but had done nothing with.

Read Savage’s winning story, ‘Brother’, and all the NFFD 2024 top stories, here

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