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  • Writer's pictureJenna Heller

Best Friends - origin story

It's been nearly a year since I've updated my website, let alone posted anything on my blog. I only have my mornings to work on my writing so I need to be ruthless with how I spend my time. Updating my website and blog has taken a backseat. However, with my recent National Flash Fiction Day win, I thought I'd share its origin story.

Earlier this year, I wrote 42 new pieces of flash fiction as a direct result of a Retreat West flash fiction 2-week email prompt course. They call it Fantastic Flashing and Amanda Saint from Retreat West made it available at a significant discount at the very start of the pandemic lockdowns around the world. I snapped it up and extended it to 6 weeks -- writing one new piece each day, instead of 3 new pieces each day. Again, I only have so much time in my morning and I was fortunate enough to continue working in my normal day job through lockdown. So I adapted the course to one prompt per day.

I've never been a particularly prolific writer. I write regularly, though, and produce 6-10 stories per year along with a smattering of poems. The thought of writing 42 new stories seemed preposterous but I decided to put my doubts aside and just write. And only first drafts. Write to the prompt. Keep to the theme. Start fresh each day. Trust the process. No editing.

I knew the moment I wrote 'Best Friends' that I liked it, that there was something there to return to. I felt the same way about 'Walnuts' and a handful of others. So I broke my rule and went back to edit them and prepare my submission for the NZ National Flash Fiction Day competition for 2020.

I submitted three pieces, two made it to the longlist and then the shortlist, and one, 'Best Friends', won!

The story, itself, draws on the adventures and experiences I had riding my bike in Canada -- specifically Moncton, New Brunswick, and Stanley Bridge, Prince Edward Island. There was a marsh area in Moncton near our family friend's home that had a dirt bike track running through it which I thought was so cool. My stories almost always start with place. From there, I placed two best friends. Two kids around the age of 11 or 12 and just went where they took me. And I kept asking myself, what mischief would they get up to? What else could they do that's horrible? And at what point might there be a rift between them?

I was genuinely shocked when Helen Heath said my name. I'd been so impressed with the stories by Mary Francis and Tim Saunders, and by the Highly Commended stories. While Helen was introducing the winning story, I was busy telling myself that it was fantastic to have two stories make the shortlist and preparing to find out who won and looking forward to hearing their story.

My head sort of froze and buzzed like when your leg falls asleep and you have to shake it out. You can see me touching my face in the video of the live-streamed awards night and that's because I'm trying to get myself back into the present moment!

Thank you to the judges -- Helen Heath and Sandra Arnold. Thank you to all the people behind New Zealand's National Flash Fiction Day. Thank you to Flash Frontier where both 'Best Friends' and 'Walnuts' will appear in their next issue, alongside all of the shortlisted stories (and possibly the longlisted ones, too?). Thank you to all the writers who wrote and submitted work to this competition -- some amazing stories that I'm looking forward to revisiting when they appear in Flash Frontier soon. And thank you to Amanda Saint from Retreat West for the opportunity to participate in Fantastic Flashing and the inspiration from Day 2, prompt 1 which gave rise to 'Best Friends'.

Now it's time to go back to the remaining 39 pieces and polish them up, too!

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