I’m happy to welcome the very nice and very talented, Nik Perring, to my blog today. I first came across Nik by chance when I heard him read some of his stories online and being a flash fiction writer myself, I was intrigued by their brevity and also by their surreal originality. He’s here today to talk about his great little collection of flash fiction ‘Not So Perfect’.
Valerie Sirr: Hi Nik and welcome to the blog! I describe the book as ‘little’ because the physical book, just like the stories in ‘Not So Perfect’ is dinky sized but of great quality – when it arrived in the post it struck me how beautifully produced it is. It’s very handy to carry around too. Did you have much input into the design?
Nik Perring: Hi Valerie, and Valerie’s readers! It’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me over.
The design is pretty much all down to Roast Books (the marvellous people who published it). And, yes, I did have input – most of it seemed to be me nodding excitedly saying, ‘What a great idea!’. A lot of people have said that they like the size because of its portability. I think one of the things I like about it the most (as well as it looking pretty cool and different) is that it’s about the size of a CD case, and I think that makes sense because the stories inside it are song length.
VS: I asked you before on your ‘Any Questions’ blog post about titles and thanks for your considered answer by the way. Was ‘Not So Perfect’ difficult to come up with? It’s a phrase from one of the stories, ‘Pacifier’: ‘Not so perfect yourself, eh!’, again a sliver of a story, but a deceptively simple one that says a lot about marriage and sex.
NP: I think, when I first put the collection together (which was basically me picking the best things I’d written over a two or three year period) I’d thought it could be called ‘Little Voices’ which, ultimately, wouldn’t have worked so we (Roast Books and me) had to find a new one. It was pretty quick to come up with. I think I just made lots of lists of things I thought captured the book’s mood, or lines from the stories, and saw which ones stood out. ‘Not So Perfect’ was the one that stood out the most, and by quite some distance and I think it works great.
VS: I admired the stories in ‘Not So Perfect’ for their inventiveness. They’re like reading children’s stories written for adults. I notice you began writing stories for children. Can you tell us a bit about that?
NP: Thanks! That’s always a lovely thing to hear. I think that’s what I was going for. I like stories to be simply told, to be efficient, to let Story come first, not the author or his/her vocabulary or ego. So that’s where the simplicity of sentence structre and the telling of the stories comes from. That and a fondness for the Hemingway school of structure. And along with my desire to write what I like to think could be called something like grown-up fairy tales. Someone described my work a little while ago as being like an accessible Angela Carter, which, I guess is about right, although probably nowhere near as good.
And yes, my first book was one for children. It was about Romans and Celts and things like that and was based on what was being taught on the National Curriculum here in the UK, in history and English. And while I’ve no doubt that writing for kids has influenced me, it’s never been something I’ve been conscious of. I think the same principles apply no matter who you’re writing for.
VS: ‘Not So Perfect’ is for adults, but there’s a delightful ingenuity in the way the stories show how infantile adults can be: (‘Pacifier’: rage and desire co-exist in both partners; ‘Watching, Listening’: the longing for a return to being ‘babied’; ‘When You’re Frightened Think of Strawberries’: the image of strawberries as soother). How do you come up with these and other original ideas? Do you you freewrite first and then cut back a lot?
NP: To be honest, no! I don’t ever freewrite. Most of the ideas are pretty strong and dense before I start writing – though I would qualify that by saying that I often write to find out what the story’s about, or what happens to the unusual characters or their equally unnusual circumstances.
Most of my ideas come from me asking what if type of questions, or thinking wouldn’t it be cool if. So, for example, I remember thinking about people talking to their plants to help them grow and wondering how far I could take it. I ended up with a man telling plants secrets and giving them instructions and that’s where ‘Kiss’ came from. The interesting thing is that when I do that I tend to find that the story’s actually about something else entirely (in Kiss’ case it’s really about a man feeling guilty about being much older than his wife and worrying about what she’ll do when he’s gone.)
And the strawberries story actually came from a conversation I’d had with a therapist who’d told me that that’s something she recommended people did if they were having panic attacks. Ideas really can come from anywhere.
VS: You’re writing for six years this year. Congratulations on your successes to-date. I like that your work is magical and surreal, but there’s great heart in it too. What have you got planned for the future?
NP: Thanks! Yes, my first book (the children’s one) was six years old this September. It certainly feels as though I’ve been doing this a while now! The future? You never know, do you? My intention is to keep writing and I just hope that people continue to enjoy what I put out there. That aside, it’s been five years since I had a holiday, so one of them might be nice!
Thanks for having me on!
VS: You’re welcome, Nik. Best of luck with it all.
Here’s Nik’s bio and his website where you’ll find his other books including ‘Freaks’ (co-author), cover below:
Nik Perring is a short story writer, author, editor, and teacher of writing from the UK. His stories have been published the world over in some mighty fine places, such as 3: AM, Word Riot, and Smokelong. He’s the author of the collection Not So Perfect, and co-author of Freaks! (the eBook version, he would like to point out, is only 99p at the moment…). He also wrote a children’s book. His online home is here and you can find him on Twitter at @nikperring
Tania Hershman on flash fiction here
Articles on writing flash here