It’s been a while since the last My Life in Short Fiction post, but I am pleased to welcome Calum Kerr to the blog today. If I was to find out that Flash Fiction was Calum’s middle name it would not surprise me. He has written and published 31 pieces of flash fiction in 31 days; he is Mr Flash 365, having written a piece of flash fiction every day for a year, and he is the director of National Flash Fiction Day. He recently published his latest collection of short shorts, Lost Property, and very kindly agreed to share his life in short fiction. Ladies and gents, please welcome Calum ‘Flash Fiction’ Kerr:
1. The first short story you remember enjoying.
That’s a difficult one. The first books of short stories which I read were probably by Stephen King – Night Shift and Skeleton Crew – back when I first started reading him, when I was around 13-14.
One that stays with me is ‘Mrs Todd’s Shortcut’ from Skeleton Crew. Unlike most people’s perceptions of King’s work it’s not a particularly scary story, but it had a story which fascinated me. It concerns a woman who loves to drive, and loves to find back roads which will cut down her journey time. She finds shorter and shorter routes until finally she is driving out of our world and through other worlds, other dimensions, filled with moving trees and, if I remember rightly, dinosaurs. These short cuts take fewer miles than there are between her starting points and destinations. Oh, and she starts to get younger.
There is something in that story, concerning the extraordinary seeping into the ordinary, which I find exciting, and which is something that can be spotted in a lot of my writing.
2. The short story that turned you on to writing short fiction.
Again, this would probably be King. At around the same time I was reading his works, I had already started writing – attempting to write novels in the styles of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett – but he showed me what the short form looked like. My early stories were horror tales, with occasional forays into science fiction. A lot of them were very derivative, but they showed a fascination with the possibilities of the strange which has never left me. Later, the stories of Philip K Dick would have a similar effect. And then Carver, of course.
As for one in particular, I couldn’t tell you. I have always devoured fiction, and a lot of it has poured through me and come out in my writing. So I don’t think it was any one story in particular, just discovering what could be done in so short a space.
3. A story by the author whose body of work you feel has most influenced yours.
When people want to know what kind of thing I write, there is one collection of short stories I refer them to. It’s Jeremy Dyson, the fourth member of the TV comedy group, The League of Gentlemen, and the one who solely writes but does not appear on screen. It’s called Never Trust a Rabbit. My original copy was given to me by my big brother who thought it would be exactly my thing, and he was right.
One story which stands out for me, in that collection, and which still haunts me years after the first reading, is called ‘At Last’ and features two Jewish brothers who hear a crowd of people coming down the streets and calling people from their homes. They fear that the dark times of the holocaust are repeating themselves. It is a realist story, but the way in which it is written, and the way the story plays out, transcends reality and lifts it to somewhere indefinable. That’s something I try to do with my writing: to try to look at the world through a distorting mirror and find the transcendent.
4. The story from Lost Property that most reveals something of who Calum Kerr is.
Well, to continue with the theme I have been developing here, I suppose it should be something slightly less than ordinary. It’s hard to pick just one from the collection, as I feel that to see the entirety of what I do and think, you need to read the whole thing. But if I have to pick a representative tale, it would be ‘They’ll Need a Crane’ a story inspired by the title of a They Might Be Giants song. It is set in a realist world, with humour, a little bit of politics, a sense of the deeper needs and wants of being human playing out, but with a touch of the unreal coming into the story and skewing possibilities. As with many of my stories, it’s not straight-forward science-fiction or fantasy, not even magical realism really, but it owes something to all of those: the real world seen from the corner of the eye.
5. Your all time favourite short story.
What a horrible question; having to pick just one!
Well, along with the above mentioned ‘At Last’ by Jeremy Dyson, the other story which I am forever forcing people to read is ‘Upon the Dull Earth’ by Philip K Dick. He was a prolific story writer, creating a huge range of strange future worlds, but this is one of the stranger ones. As with many of his stories it questions the nature of reality, and what it means to be an individual, and it sees the entire human race slowly replaced by copies of one single person. At the end of the story, the narrator looks in the mirror and sees that person staring back at them. It is well written, thought provoking, creepy and the kind of story which never leaves you. Yeah, if I was on a desert island, that’s the one I’d save.
Calum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife – the writer, Kath Kerr – their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is now available from Amazon, or direct from the publisher, Cinder House.