14 Jul 2021 / My Arvon Journey
As a child I dreamt of being a writer, of travelling the world and telling stories. Journalism offered me the opportunity to be paid to do this, and for the past twenty years I have been fortunate to live, journey and work in dozens of countries.
In that time, I have witnessed love and loss, disaster and disease, conflict and corruption, as well as the effective use and the appalling abuse of power. I have woven words around those experiences, seeking to amplify the stories of others. I have learned languages which opened windows into worlds different from the one where I grew up. I have met people with perspectives poles apart from my frames of reference.
But I have also learned there are things that connect us as human beings. Whether on a tributary of the Amazon, a hillside in Haiti, in a hotel on Libya’s bullet-ridden Benghazi corniche, by a remote air strip in the Democratic Republic of Congo, on a UK high street or New York’s Fifth Avenue, I have seen how desire, grief, love, anger and hope are universal threads. And they have allowed me to weave stories about those moments that connect us.
Lumb Bank in Yorkshire is a long way from these locations. But it was where I wrote the early drafts of three stories which feature in my debut collection of flash writing, The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing, published this month by Reflex Fiction.
Back then in 2018, I had not heard of ‘flash’ as a form of writing, though I would craft tiny stories inspired by my encounters — calling them my postcards from the edge.
I went to Lumb Bank for a ‘Work in Progress’ course, with the early stages of a novel that wasn’t working. Our tutors for the week were Cynan Jones and Vanessa Gebbie, two experts in concision. Their prompts sparked me to write story after tiny story, a form they introduced as flash fiction.
I remember feeling as if Vanessa and Cynan had given me the key to unlock a form of writing separate from my journalism, one which allowed me to honour others, as well as process my own experiences.
Since then, I’ve written dozens of pieces of flash – a form generally regarded as under 1000 words, though other smaller word counts apply too. I’ve been rejected more times than I can remember, but have also been published widely online and in print. My writing has placed second in the Bath Flash Fiction Award (word count 300) and won the ‘I Must Be Off!’ Travel writing prize, and has been shortlisted in several contests. It’s also made the Best Microfiction series, a collection of global stories under 400 words, and the Best British and Irish Flash Fictions of the Year (BIFFY 50, 2020).
I returned to Arvon (this time Totleigh Barton) for a flash fiction course taught by Nuala O’Connor and Tania Hershman, both experts in the miniature form. It was a huge benefit to me to be part of a writing community with focussed time to write, away from the demands of my job and caring for my family. Several more of the pieces in my collection stem from that week and my best work often emerges from workshops where I have concentrated time to focus – much like the deadlines I am used to in journalism.
So much about flash resonates with my experiences as a journalist. As a reporter for the BBC World Service, we’d often have to tell entire stories in little more than a minute. I quickly learned I spoke around three words per second, so sixty seconds meant 180 words. Now I hone my stories like I did my despatches.
For me rhythm is also a big part of writing, so I read everything out loud, just as I did when I was practising my radio reports.
In journalism, we’re taught to find the familiar entry point to a story, the thing or person who will make our audiences care. I think that works well with flash too, focussing on specific to tell a story that resonates.
In my work, there are moments I take my readers behind the headlines, reimagining the worlds that still linger long after the cameras and reporters disappear. And because of my personal and professional experiences, I often write about the dynamics that disempower women – inequities that transcend international boundaries.
Much of what I write focusses on liminal moments, hence my choice of title for the book. In my collection I explore the fragility and force of human relationships, and the unexpected moments that upend our familiar worlds. I write frequently about people pushed to extremes, who remind us that we are all still animals driven my instinct and a need for protection.
I’ve recently started teaching writing workshops, applying the skills I crafted as a journalist and later media trainer and my decades of storytelling. I love connecting others with the stories they feel compelled to tell, be that through a focus on place, rhythm, specificity, or by exploring other ways and forms of flash where they can find the words to share their own experiences. One day, I’d love to return to Arvon, perhaps as a tutor to share what I have learned and help others find the key to their writing.
Hannah Storm’s debut collection, The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing, is published on July 20 by Reflex Fiction. Her memoir has recently been shortlisted by Mslexia. Copies of The Thin Line are available to pre-order here: The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing – Reflex Press
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