Matt Kendrick
May 15, 2024


Galaxies as Genres: Matt Kendrick Interviewed by Shane Larkin

Matt Kendrick discusses telling the hard stories, his own process (in depth), and the experimental nature of the flash form.

Shane Larkin: How did you get started writing flash fiction? What appealed most to you about it?

Matt Kendrick: I stumbled upon flash fiction almost by accident (I guess this might the case for many writers!) and found myself intrigued by the challenge of crafting a full story in so few words. I started reading as much as I could, mesmerised by writers like Kathy Fish, Gaynor Jones, Christopher M Drew, Sharon Telfer and Fiona J Mackintosh who were all publishing wonderful pieces at that time (and are all still publishing wonderful pieces today!) What appealed to me was the distillation of story and the tone of the writing. When I think about flash fiction now, I mostly define it by that sense of tone and distillation rather than feeling it needs to hem itself in to any particular word count.

SL: Flash can be a confusing genre for some writers, hard to define or get to grips with. What do you think it offers that maybe other genres (short fiction, poetry, etc) don’t do quite as well?

MK: I’m not really one for labels and I tend to think about each of those genres as galaxies within a wider universe of possibilities. Each piece of creative writing lands somewhere within that universe and there are large areas of overlap—I would certainly describe some pieces as flash fiction (because for me they still retain the essence of flash) even though they go above 1000 words (often seen as the upper word count limit). Some pieces of “flash” might be described as poems or prose poems. So, the nomenclature is shifty. What we define as flash is constantly evolving. And for me, that’s the most exciting thing. Flash gives possibilities for experimentation that other forms perhaps don’t. Because of its brevity and its inherent lack of rules, writers can push things to interesting places and take lots of risks.

SL: You started the Welkin Writing Prize in 2023. What prompted this?

MK: I believe in paying things forwards, so the Welkin Writing Prize was something I ran as a thank you to the universe (and the writing community) for receiving an Arts Council DYCP grant in September 2022. It was supposed to be a one-off, but I’ve since organised the Welkin Mini (celebrating the art of the drabble) which published its winners earlier this year. And I’m hopeful that the “main” prize will be returning for 2025. This depends on my health (since I live with a chronic health condition – he’s called Trevor!) and raising enough money to fund the core costs of running the prize.

SL: As an editor, a teacher, and indeed a competition judge, what are some common pitfalls you notice in other writers’ work?

MK: There are two things that often crop up when I’m considering other writers’ stories, especially when I’m considering flash fiction. The first is focus. Flash is often most powerful when it can be distilled to a single idea, but writers can sometimes be slightly too ambitious with their first drafts and they throw too many ingredients into the mixing pot. I find that a good thing to do if you think your story is struggling from a lack of focus is to write a mini synopsis that sums up what the piece is about. The second thing that crops up time and time again are stories which are hemmed in by word count. A story, for me, is like a gemstone. We want to display that gemstone in the perfect-sized case, not too small, not too large. What often happens is that a writer has a word count in mind and when they reach the end of that word count, they simply stop writing. The effect of this is that we end up with a wonderful set-up and a wonderful progression after that, but the emotional zenith of the story isn’t given the space it needs and the piece loses some of its power as a result.

SL: Saying a lot with very little is the hallmark of a lot of great flash, and something I see all the time in your work – the hidden depths of established folklore in ‘Black Annis’, for example, or the relationship in ‘Altercation’. Do you have any advice for writers on telling big stories like these in such small packages?

MK: Oh, this is the real challenge with flash and I think the first thing to bear in mind is that most writers (me most of all!) don’t achieve this in every story. It’s hard. The key, for me, is that idea of depth. Rather than extending a story outwards, extend it downwards. What is the story you are telling on the surface and what are the stories you are telling underneath. The surface layer is what we are giving our reader as an invitation – here is a thing that is happening; it is generally easy to grasp. But beneath that, I look to build in several underground layers that an astute reader can pick up on in subsequent reads. This might be hints of backstory or elements that build the wider context or details that undermine the reliability of the narrative (like I’ve attempted to do with the use of italics in ‘Black Annis’ where the italics represent untruths). The tricky thing is knowing how many hints to add in so that the big story starts to emerge without overburdening the surface layer. This is where getting a second pair of eyes can be really useful – send your story to a writing friend and ask them ‘What happens in this story?’ Get them to answer that question after their first read and then again after their second read – are they seeing the deeper layers?

SL: You’ve written about the flash community’s tendency to explore dark territory in their work, and the question of who has to right to tell these stories, to speak to these subjects and experiences. (“Telling the Hard Stories”). I think a lot of writers come up against that question – “is this my story to tell?” How do you reckon with that in your own work?

MK: There are obviously two extreme answers to that question – everyone should be able to tell any story that they want to and everyone should only write from their own narrow viewpoint – but I hope that most people have an opinion that falls somewhere in between. There’s a scale here. It’s certainly not black and white, and I think there should be space for contrasting views. As a writer with a chronic health condition, I would very much welcome writers who don’t fall into that category to write characters who do. But there are asterisks to that statement. There’s a big difference, for me, between writing about the illness itself (which I think should mostly be reserved for the many wonderful writers who know exactly how that feels) and writing a story that features a character with a chronic health condition; in a similar way, I think there’s a big difference between a white writer writing a story about the experience of racism and writing a story that features a character of colour. After that, I think it’s a case of doing due diligence. Make sure you know what you’re writing by talking to people who form part of those groups. Make sure you aren’t stereotyping. Make sure you’re making the character more than their label.

SL: You’re a great advocate of other writers and stories that you admire, both on your blog and on social media. Are there any stories of your own that you’re particularly proud of, or that you’d like to shout out for any reason? And where can we read them?

MK: That’s very kind of you. Honestly, I never think I do enough to support other writers, especially given the huge amount of support I get in return. The flash-fiction community is full of superstars, people who are endlessly generous in many different ways. They are superstar writers but they are also superstar human beings and many of them don’t get the recognition they deserve for either of those things. So, rather than ending this interview by putting my stories in the spotlight, I would like to end it by shining that spotlight back out on those who make the flash-fiction community such a welcoming and creatively-inspiring space. There are so many wonderful people giving up their time as editors and readers of literary magazines, cheerleaders of other writers’ stories on social media platforms, and those who run writing groups or reading events. All of this is done on a voluntary basis, and our community would be much poorer without them.

Matt Kendrick is a writer, editor and teacher based in the East Midlands, UK. His work has been featured in various journals and anthologies including Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, Cheap Pop, Craft Literary, Fractured Lit, Ghost Parachute, and the Wigleaf Top 50. Website: | Substack: | Twitter: @MkenWrites

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