Flash Frontier

The Mysterious Writing of Andrea Quinlan, and introducing new flash editors

Interviews and Features

November 2014

This month, Flash Frontier Features Editor Rachel Fenton reviews Andrea Quinlan’s The Mysteries of Laura (Birds of Lace, 2014). Andrea’s flash is also included in this month’s story page. In addition to delving into Andrea’s work, we’re also pleased to introduce the new editors of Flash Frontier, James Norcliffe and Rebecca Styles, who will be joining us in 2015.

First, let’s meet Andrea…

The Mysteries of Laura (not to be confused with the Debra Messing TV series of the same name) is Christchurch writer Andrea Quinlan’s second poetry publication, her debut being We Speak Girl (Dancing Girl Press, 2012), and though it demonstrates a continuation of her feminist interests, The Mysteries of Laura marks a departure in form, sharing more characteristics with narrative flash fiction than poetry.

This is likely due to Quinlan’s parodying of the gothic romance, in twelve consecutive chapters: “The Gothic Novels”, “Laura”, “The Dream”, “The Bloodstained Nightgown”, “The Day of Reveries”, “The Wedding Dress”, “The Locked Room”, “The Red Dress”, “The Walled Garden”, “The Midnight Walk”, “The Graveyard”, and “The Disguise”, the immediate mystery being why only “Laura” is missing the definite article.

As the mysteries are detailed, the narrative reveals Laura to be the heroine of a series of episodes taken from Isabella Thorpe’s suggested reading list to Catherine Morland in Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey. Laura is, then, if not the definite article, the genuine gothic article.

Sometimes Laura felt like she was
Any number of different heroines the way
Everyone talked about her.
Laura is an innocent young girl.
Laura has many accomplishments.
Laura is often afraid.
Laura is quiet and often blushes.
Laura is a wicked girl.
(Quinlan, P3)

But just as Laura’s perception of herself is soured, so the character herself is transformed: “Here was Laura” (P22), but transformed into what?

Andrea Quinlan is a poet and writer based in Christchurch, New Zealand. Her chapbook We Speak Girl was published by Dancing Girl Press (Chicago) in 2012, and The Mysteries of Laura was published by Birds of Lace (Athens, Georgia) in 2013. Other poetry was published or is forthcoming in brief, Gaga Stigmata, Delirious Hem, NNATAN, Strange Girl Press, Girls Get Busy, HAG, Wicked Alice, Finery and the Best Friends Forever anthology. She edits the zines Through the Looking Glass and Rituals. Her website is here.


Now, let’s welcome James Norcliffe and Rebecca Styles. At year-end, we say farewell to Elizabeth Welsh and Rachel J Fenton, who’ve helped shape our journal in 2014. As of January 2015, James will join Flash Frontier as Editor, and Rebecca will step into the role of Features Editor. We’re glad to introduce them to readers with a story, and a brief biographical note, from each. More will be forthcoming in 2015.

Thanks, James and Rebecca, for sharing with us here.

James Norcliffe, Kissing the Sky (first published in his collection, Along Blueskin Road, Otago University Press – posted here with permission from the publisher)

It’s Highway 69 and it’s as hot as a chilli on a griddle out there with a greeny jealous sky and red dirt as far as the eye can spit and here’s Christine all in purple standing on the stoop of the Lipstick Pickup Diner waiting for the punters to start arriving.

And the punters do.

Here’s patrol car with a big blue light and a pair of short-sleeved cops in seersucker shirts and moleskin pants and one of them says “Nice paint job, Ma’am” and Christine at first thinks he means her Lip-Glo but he really means the pink façade and the plum letters fashioned after flower power, all curlicues and petals and possibilities.

And here’s a couple of choppers with apehangers and sideburns and buckskin and fringes and here’s Billy and Wyatt with legs like wishbones easing off the gas tanks and moseying along up the steps and “Can I do you breakfast boys?” asks Christine, her great purple empress tent-dress hiding the fact there’s three months to go, and Billy grunts but Wyatt turns his blue shades to the green sky and asks “You get much rain here?”

Christine doesn’t reply because here’s George coming round the corner zipping up his fly and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. The grin he flashes Christine is of startling loveliness, shiny as the day is new, and he pushes his way into the diner and sinks into a buttoned burnt orange booth all vinyl and Formica.

Here’s the orders: flapjacks for the cops and black jaffa and eggs sunny side up for the boys and the smells are golden honey and dark mocha and a sizzle of albumen and here’s the door opening and Jimi’s standing there in a black hat with medallions round the brim shining like silver dollars and holding his Fender Monterey Stratocaster before him like a benediction and Christine stares and her mouth gasps and she feels a tiny kick within her. The light is behind Jimi and he’s all fuzz and feedback and his hair rises like an aureole about him as if he’s underwater and floating in a green sea.

George grins his lovely grin and pats the orange vinyl. “Sit down Jimmy,” he smiles and Jimi says “it’s Jimi with an ‘i'” and George beams and says “Sure Jimmi.” And Jimi says “… and one ‘m'” and “What’ll it be, Jimi?” asks Christine but Jimi doesn’t reply merely slipping in beside George and nodding wordlessly, expressionlessly, at Wyatt and Billy. “I’m a headliner, too, baby” murmurs Wyatt and Billy grunts “Say what’s that axe made of man?”

But Jimi doesn’t reply. Instead he holds his handpainted tomato-red Stratocaster, all curlicues and petals, to his teeth and pulls at the strings. There is a twang of yellow and a twang of mauve and Jimi is chewing a thick spiral of silver, which slithers from his moving jaw like living vermicelli. George’s eyes widen and his grin broadens. Wyatt sighs as Jimi takes the headstock in his mouth and bites. There is a crunch of chocolate and Christine feels the kick once more. One of the cops looks up over his flapjack and his eyes narrow. He nudges his neighbour.

And here’s George looking with wonder as Jimi works his way down the neck chewing remorselessly pausing only to spit out the odd white plastic tuner. “Lord, have mercy …” whispers George. “Is that what that is?” Jimi turns to him all fuzz and distortion, breaks off a piece of the pickup guard and hands it to him silently. George takes it in his mouth and chews deliberately. He sees turquoise. He sees vermilion. He whistles softly, sibilantly, and says “Lord, it has a real nice taste to it …”

Jimi meanwhile has chewed his way down the neck to the lacquered body. He looks up and asks a question with his eyes of Wyatt and Billy who both nod soundlessly.

But here’s the cops syrup at the corners of their mouths standing up hands on holsters leaving their flapjacks. They stand by the booth. One wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. The other says “What the hell is this? Troublemakers?” Christine licks her Lip Glo nervously. Wyatt turns his blue shades to the cop and Billy sniffs “Oink.” Says the other cop “I think we oughter put them in the cage.” Jimi chews on as if they weren’t there at all. Yellow. Marigold. Lapus lazuli. Wind. Mist. Water. Haze.

And here’s the cops with their guns and the boys are standing, led out into the red dirt and the green sky and the radio is full of fuzz and feedback as they wait for the grey paddy wagon. Jimi kneels in the red dirt spitting out the last white volume knob. Billy scowls. Wyatt raises his blue shades to the green sky and all is brown. Christine is back on the stoop and her purple dress lifts in the breeze. And here’s George, grinning his lovely grin, and kissing the sky.

Wyatt looks down, then pulls Jimi to his feet gently. “Tell me” he says “You ever want to be somebody else?”

James026_1James Norcliffe is an award-winning poet and writer with work appearing in journals world-wide and translated into several languages. His publications include a collection of short stories, eight collections of poetry – most recently Villon in Millerton (Auckland University Press) and Shadow Play (Proverse) – and several award-winning novels for young people including The Loblolly Boy (Longacre/Random) and its successor The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer (Longacre/Random). His most recent books for young people are Felix and the Red Rats (Longacre/Random, 2012) and The Pirates and the Nightmaker (Longacre/Random, forthcoming 2015). Norcliffe’s flash fiction is included in Flash Fiction International by W W Norton, forthcoming 2015.

Besides his long list of publications, he also poetry editor for Christchurch’s The Press and contributed a long-time involvement to Takahē magazine. Meanwhile, he has worked more recently, with Harry Ricketts and Siobhan Harvey, as editor of the major anthology Essential New Zealand Poems – Facing the Empty Page (Godwit/Random) 2014.

Rebecca Styles, The Ecosystem

The marine biotechnology conference is in Hangzhou.  Robert will talk about nematodes found in the Kermadec Trench.  A robotic submersible, like a mini-submarine, was lowered into the water, down ten thousand feet, to collect mud and the plentiful but invisible to the naked eye nematode worms that live in it.  He was away six weeks that time, on a boat where the equipment kept breaking down.  The crew had to come back to Auckland halfway through the expedition to fix the hoist on the submersible.

Robert’s girlfriend, Sally, flew from Wellington to Auckland to see him, and booked a hotel room.  After the excitement of seeing each other, and drinking 200ml of Saki each (a measurement he knew exactly from beakers in the lab), they had gone to bed.  When he lay still on the flat white sheets he could still feel the movement of the ocean.  In the morning, they ate over-cooked eggs on dry toast beside the waterfront, and walked to the museum before he had to board the ship again.  It would be another three weeks until she saw him again.

When Sally first met Robert she had no idea what a nematode was.  Robert explained that they were worms.

“They are the most common animal on earth, and vital to understanding the ecosystem,” he said.

Sally had nodded at Robert’s explanation and said, “Oh right.”  She knew he could tell she knew nothing about ecology, but he didn’t say anything to make her feel stupid, instead he said, “Everything is connected.”

When Robert got back from the Kermadec Trench he processed the mud in the lab. He put the samples through the scanning electron microscope and took images of the results. Robert showed Sally the magnified images at home. She put her arm on Robert’s shoulder as he sat at his desk, and leant towards his laptop. She thought the nematode’s cylinder shaped head in black and white looked startled but also proud of itself, like it had just realised it was on camera and had enough time to smile before the camera clicked.

“It looks so happy with itself, doesn’t it?” Robert said.

“Are you going to show the images in China?”

“Yeah, I think so. I need to start working on my talk. How do you say hello in Chinese?”

“Ni hao.”

Sally teaches a Chinese woman English once a week. Mrs Liu serves Chinese tea while they go over word sheets about food or weather. Mrs Liu lived near the Yellow River but came to New Zealand to be with her son who is a nurse. In China, Mrs Liu was a Professor of Nursing. Sally told Mrs Liu that Robert is going to Hangzhou. She nodded and smiled.

 “Hangzhou. Yes, very beautiful. My family near there,” Mrs Liu said. Sally could tell she wanted to talk about it in more detail but she didn’t have enough English.

Sally’s friend teaches English in Shanghai.  Her friend posts photos on Facebook of tall glass buildings, and the Exhibition Centre that looks Russian with its turrets and columns. Her friend rides to work on a fast train. Sally imagines herself on a fast train beside Robert on the way to the conference. She feels the longing of missing him before he has even left.

“Here’s the venue.” Robert opens the web page for the Dalian Convention Centre.

“It looks like something off Star Trek,” Sally says.

It is five floors of curved grey steel crouching beside the Bay.

Robert points at the screen. “The pockets of steel open like the fins of a fish.  It looks more like a magnified creature from a marine trench than any building I’ve seen.”

“It’s amazing. It’s like it could slip back into the bay.”

“There’s a trench not far from there, between Asia and the Pacific, the Mariana. It’s over ten kilometres deep.”

“Could a submersible go that deep?”

“There have been studies.”

“Any nematodes?”

“No one’s looked.”

“Well, maybe after this conference you’ll get a chance to.”

“Maybe. That would be a long trip, though.” Robert looks at Sally who averts her eyes before standing up and kissing Robert on his forehead.

“Yeah, but someone has to understand the ecosystem, how we’re all connected.”

Rebecca Styles pic 4 NZSA eventRebecca Styles‘ short stories have appeared in journals such as Turbine and Takahē and in anthologies The Best New Zealand Fiction #6, Home and Creative Juices. Her work has also been broadcast on Radio New Zealand.  In 2013 her flash fiction story “Parade” was awarded second place in the National Flash Fiction Day competition. Most recently, her story “Oriental Bay” was published in the anthology Sweet As (2014).

Rebecca completed a BA (Hons) in English at the University of Otago (2010) and a MA from the International Institute of Modern Letters (Victoria University NZ, 2011), and is presently  a PhD student of Creative Writing with Massey University. She blogs about New Zealand books at NZLit101 and teaches short story writing at the Wellington High School Community Education classes (more here). She is a committee member of the Wellington branch of the NZ Society of Authors, as well as the National Flash Fiction Day committee.


Please go here for Flash Frontier‘s November 2014 collection of stories, themed heroes. 

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