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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

All Over In A Flash

During the past few days I’ve pondered how even the finest story tellers can never improve on reality. The best they can do is to describe or perhaps replicate it in words. What has happened, for example, to the residents of Newtown, Connecticut, USA, far exceeds the imagination of  any crime  or horror writer.

Barely fifty years ago, if  someone were to have invented the scenarios of the mass shootings and terrorist bombings which have since happened around the world, they would have been  summarily dismissed as poorly crafted, unbelievable tosh.

When these events occur, all ordinary people are visited by the same bewildered incomprehension as they felt on Tuesday 11 September 2001. The terrorist bombings in New York seemed so unreal as they happened that many people glancing at the initial television pictures thought they were scenes from a second-rate movie.

TBoris.Starling.Messiahhis past week I’ve also been reading Messiah by the British novelist, Boris Starling. It is a powerful, pacy, gory story of a serial killer; an excellent if  inelegantly written novel whose  markedly clever  sub-plot is made up largely of very short chapters, some of  which would make good stand-alone ‘flash’ stories, even to their concluding twists.

But reading Messiah as the facts of the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings have been revealed, has also made me consider how differently we react to separate acts of slaughter rather than those perpetrated en masse. All life is equally precious, so we should be as appalled by one murder as we are by a huge number. But our emotions work illogically and they dictate our every thought and deed.

Then the senseless killing of a score of infants is even more difficult to understand. We gaze affectionately at their loveable images and see not only their innocent vulnerability but the loss of an entire generation. No wonder that the uncle of six-year-old Noah Pozner, the youngest of the victims, described his nephew as mature beyond his years; as someone who had been destined to be a great adult. Noah Pozner

Here was a devoted uncle trying to imagine how his nephew would have developed had he not not died so needlessly - years before himself. All of it is  cruelly and pointlessly against nature – simply not fair! This feeling must be common to everyone directly involved and so at the root of the ensuing debate about gun control. Any decisions should not be based on what is comfortable for the adults discussing the issue now but how they will affect the next generation.

Equally unjust is how these bright, brief candles, now snuffed out, will be largely forgotten by the world once the media circus moves on to the next news bulletin – the real stuff of which short tales are made. This, I fear, is what too few creators of modern micro fiction understand. The unimaginable horror of everyday life is all around, we don’t need to enter the realms of fantasy to find it.

I may spend weeks thinking about and then many more days producing a flash story. The briefest are often the most difficult to craft. The genre is an art form in its own right and should be cherished all the more for it.

This is why  I dislike both the current fad for ‘Gothic’ horror among writers and readers of flash fiction and the push for writers to produce as much and as fast as possible. Surely the fashion is simply a cheap marketing ploy? It is distressing to learn that people churn out a daily micro-mini story as a five finger exercise; a warm up for the  important business of creating a full-blown novel in a month(!).

The Internet has created a market for self-publishing, so removing the stigma  of constant rejection by commercial publishers. This should not be a reason to treat writing with cheerful disdain but a chance for new stories written by hitherto unrecognised writers to be treasured, not chucked in a bin as the detritus of built-in obsolescence.

So as night falls on a woefully dismal day at the fag end of another brutal year I’ll conclude, as I’m sure others have, with a roll call of those who died in Newtown. Their lives were over in a flash. Let their names be for an eternal blessing.

Twenty Children:
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N. Wyatt, 6

Six Adults
Rachel Davino, 29
Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal
Anne Marie Murphy, 52,
special education teacher
Lauren Rousseau, 30, teacher
Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist
Victoria Soto, 27, first grade teacher


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