Tuesday, June 19, 2012

BOMB by Sian Williams

As the plate-glass façade of the university library disintegrated, Miranda looked up from her essay on symbolism in Germanic folk-tale and thought:
it’s true
      in an explosion



                                                                   in slo-mo.
In the blinding flash, as the Japanese history student near the window was vaporised, the relevance of Hiroshima’s thousand suns was lost upon Miranda.
And as the pressure wave ballooned into the building and that creepy astrophysics guy at the next table was reduced to his constituent particles, the analogy of a new universe created by this Big Bang and now expanding exponentially did not cross her mind.
But as the twinkling blast-front neared, and the light fittings above her desk swayed elegantly in unison and exploded, Miranda thought briefly about Snow White motionless in her glass coffin: sleeping yet not sleeping, alive yet not alive, undead. And Cinderella, the Ash Girl, leaving her glass slipper on the steps and running — running ragged — into the night.
Lastly she thought about The Snow Queen in which the wizard’s magic mirror, when dropped to earth, shivers into a million fragments. Distorting, perverting, corrupting. She was Gerda, barefoot in the snow, bent into the howling ice-storm, searching for the transparent palace where Kay sits alone with shards of glass in his eyes and his heart — and now she was Kay   trying to piece together the puzzle of a shattered frozen lake, to form the word Eternity.

First published at Flash Frontier, May 2012.
Editor, Michelle Elvy
* * *
This Friday, 22 June 2012, marks National Flash Fiction Day and I'm honoured to be the Guest Editor here this week and bring you this short short story. It's written by my co-editor at Flash Frontier, a journal we launched back in January. Flash is both challenging and inspiring. Capturing the essence of something in such a short space requires a certain skill, and flash fiction -- despite its very trim word limit -- allows both freedom and experimentation. 
Sian wrote this story for the Flash Frontier issue themed splinters. I find it a marvellous example of short short fiction -- beautifully written, simple at first glance with layers to unpack. 

I asked Sian a few questions to accompany this story (three, to be precise: this is flash, after all). The story speaks for itself, but I always enjoy hearing more from the author, too. 

ME: How did the idea for this story come to you -- this one moment in time, slowed almost to a stopping point?

SW: It started with an image in my mind of shards of glass suspended in the air slowly twisting and twinkling in a beautiful, yet sinister, way. I began thinking about explosions and remember watching slow-motion video of the nuclear tests in the Pacific. When the film was slowed right down, the individual forces created by the blast could be identified and separated --  the light, the pressure wave, the sound. The anatomy of the explosion became visible and I started to think about a story which examined these different components and presented them as a series of freeze-frame images. 

ME: The weaving of fairy tale into reality adds a wonderful element to this piece. Can you tell us why these particular fairy tales came to you? 

SW: I was thinking about materials which splinter, and in particular about ice and glass, and their relationship to each other. Ice and glass are recurrent motifs in many fairy tales, and the three fairy tales mentioned in the story all feature glass: Snow White's glass coffin, Cinderella's glass slipper. The Snow Queen begins with the breaking of the broken magician’s mirror, and later snow and ice feature strongly. I'm interested in how the themes and motifs used in fairy tales relate to our lives today, and it seemed to me that Miranda's experience in the explosion was in many ways an infinitely condensed version of the children's experience in The Snow Queen.

The glass coffin is interesting because it's an example of a serendipitous moment in writing when everything comes together. In addition to being made of glass, the coffin introduces the idea of suspended animation (an idea which crops up in a number of fairy tales including Snow White and Sleeping Beauty) and is the perfect image for this story as Miranda sees herself momentarily in suspended animation, caught motionless in the space between life and death. 

ME: In this very short story, you question in subtle ways the relevance of history, of science, of time itself -- and whether these are best viewed as a whole or as fragments. Tell us, do the fragments matter more, or does the whole?

SW: In this case the fragments are important; this story is about splinters, fragments of lives, things blown apart. What I tried to say here is that the way we experience life, even a shattering moment like this one, perhaps especially a moment like this one, is shaped by our own particular frame of reference, our context and place in the world. The Japanese history student experiences the explosion in terms of the bombing of Hiroshima, the astrophysicist in terms of the Big Bang, and Miranda in terms of the fairy tales she is studying. We all experience the same event in different ways, we are individual fragments.

* * *

You can read more about Sian Williams, whose recent accomplishments include being short-listed for the Flash 500 Competition and the Fish Publishing Flash Competition, here. Or you can meet her in Auckland on Friday, 22 June -- National Flash Fiction Day.  

Visit the NFFD site and find out about the competition's Short List and also events happening in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Whangarei. 

And please do enjoy the poetry and flash posted this week by other members of the Tuesday Poem collective. You can find their posts in the sidebar to the left. 

* * * 
Michelle Elvy lives and writes on her sailboat in Northland, but she's in Auckland much of this winter, researching and writing a collection of flash fiction set across the landscape of New Zealand history -- thanks to a grant from the NZSA and Auckland Museum Library. You can find her at National Flash Fiction Day on June 22 or at Poetry Live on July 17, where she will be the Guest Poet.  Michelle is also online at: Flash Frontier / Blue Five Notebook / A Baker's Dozen / 52|250: A Year of FlashAn Aotearoa Affair: A Blog Fest from Kiel to Kaitaia


Mary McCallum said...

This is fascinating Michelle - thank you to you and Sian. Your joint passion for flash fiction is inspiring! I find it interesting that Sian's flash is written at the
'end' in effect and as it counts down hauls in so much - especially opening out the imagery in the way of poetry but keeping up the narrative tension in the way of prose. Nice one. I will look forward to seeing who wins the NFFD competition, sadly I didn't make the shortlist... )-:

Elizabeth Welsh said...

Love, love, love the visual element of the flash at the very beginning, ending with the telling phrase 'slo-mo', acting as a trigger for the rest of the piece - fab! Thanks, Michelle, for sharing Sian's work :) Like Mary, I'd love to hear who wins the NFFD comp, too - very exciting!

AJ Ponder said...

Love the way this is shaped through action and perception. Fantastic piece.

Myra King said...

Loved the visual aspect of this piece - the slowing down in the physical, the separation of Miranda's opening thoughts. Wonderful introspection, flashes of metaphors. Top ending.

Michelle Elvy said...

Glad you all enjoyed this story. It's an excellent example of accomplishing quite a lot in a small space. We'll all be looking forward to hearing the results of the NFFD competition. Friday...

Helen McKinlay said...

The imagery in this piece is very clear; the glass and snow and ice.
Fascinating that although there is an explosion heat and fire isn't mentioned, or did I miss something?

Thank you both Sion and Michelle for this. I would have enjoyed it without the comments but found them very helpful. Flash fiction seems to have an extra component...i.e. it is more than a short short story? I will try it one day :-)

live sports said...

nice work

Michelle Elvy said...

Interesting that you point out the absence of heat and fire, Helen. And you are right. This story strikes me as a cold one -- and though heat and fire are so commonly associated with explosion, this one's more about the internal moment, all those shards. And now that I think on it, I like it particularly for leaving those elements out. Thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed this. And yes DO TRY it sometime! :)

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