Flash Fiction – A Novice’s Tale

Flash fiction, micro-fiction, sudden fiction, postcard fiction. Very short fiction goes by a number of names and its allowable word length varies – it may be less than 1,000 words, under 100, or, like the Writers Victoria Flash Fiction competition, up to 30 words.

The lower the word limit, the more important it is that every word counts. This makes flash fiction more akin to poetry than long form fiction, but with more plot and less imagery. It’s a quick dip – in, out, done.

But brevity does not imply rush. Flash fiction is also about restraint and precision and evocation.

Writers Victoria Flash Fiction 2022

As a newcomer to flash fiction, I happened upon Writers Victoria’s 2022 Flash Fiction competition, held annually since 2010. The task was fittingly brief: ‘30 days. 30 prompts. 30 words.’

Each day, the prompt word lobbed into my inbox at 8.00am. Then, along with hundreds of other participants, I had until midnight to submit an entry. The entry had to include the prompt word or an accepted variation.

Post-competition reflection

On reflection, I was pleased with some of my entries, barely satisfied with others, and a mite disgruntled with the rest. But my self-imposed task was to be disciplined about submitting, not to hold out for a work of genius.

To help me reflect on the experience, after the event’s completion, I turned to ‘12 Top Tips On Writing Flash Fiction’ by the award-winning children’s author Gareth P. Jones. The tips are published on the excellent Jericho Writers’ website.

Here are Jones’s tips, each one matched with one of my entries.

#1 Select Your Genre

Gareth Jones notes that ‘flash fiction can be in any genre’. As a reader of historical fiction and a long-time student of history (and having recently watched the second series of Bridgerton) it was no surprise that several of my entries had historical flavour.

Day 2 – glow
Miss Alice Wilmington strolled beneath her lace-trimmed parasol as she took a turn around the park.
‘Mama, it’s so hot. I’m sweating.’
‘My dear, ladies do not sweat; we glow.’

#2 Choose an Overarching Theme

Jones suggests that current events can be a jumping off point for flash fiction. In early April, I had read an essay about the arguments for and against the presence of brumbies in Kosciuszko National Park. The prompt word ‘dapple’ immediately conjured an image of these horses.

Day 17 – dapple
Bay, chestnut, strawberry roan and dapple grey
the high-country mob flashed before her eyes.
She wanted to love their brazen wildness,
but her heart bridled at ruined wilderness.

#3 Use One or Two Key Characters

With few words to work with, characters need to be kept to a minimum. Jones suggests making the protagonist ‘complex or flawed’ and ‘choosing first person over third person’. I now realise that I used third person for all of my entries, but I did follow the ‘complex’ character idea several times.

Day 21 – gold
Stella levered herself out of their old Corolla.
She keyed in the entry code and made her way to Doug’s room.
He blinked, vacantly.
So, these were their golden years.

#4 Make Every Sentence Count and Don’t Rush

After getting the initial words down, Jones recommends ‘peel[ing] away the unnecessary words’, followed by further carving and chiselling. I began my Day 7 entry (‘bright’) with a surfeit of words. The ‘story’ of the monk at his desk went through many iterations and much stripping away. The sunlight no longer ‘leached through the scriptorium window’, the monk’s eyes were not ‘bright with concentration’ and his pen did not hover over ‘hammered gold leaf’. I was not entirely happy with the final wording, but I think I made each word count.

Day 7 – bright
Winter sun stippled the scriptorium desk.
Back bent, fingers frozen, the monk’s pen did not falter.
His illuminations lit the room, brightening his soul with earthly delights.

#5 Prompt Visualisation

When inspiration failed for Day 16 (‘oasis’), I followed Jones’s advice and turned to old holiday photographs. When I came upon a photo of London’s St Dunstan-in-the-East, I knew I had found my ‘oasis’.

Day 16 – oasis
Glass and steel crowded the sky.
Red buses and black taxis charged along streets.
Tourists and office workers jammed footpaths.
Within St Dunstan’s bombed-out walls, Madeleine found her lunchtime oasis.

St Dunstan’s-in-the-East, London

#6 Start in the Middle & Use Descriptive, Concise Language

‘Don’t introduce the story – tell it’, says Jones. Begin at a point of drama.

Day 27 – soft
There was no point arguing.
She would have to be patient, take a softly-softly approach.
She needed a job and her own money if she was ever going to escape.

#7 Deal with a Single Conflict

‘Limit your conflicts to one single struggle or choice that your character encounters.’ For my ‘subdued’ flash fiction entry, I had in mind a young woman from the late Middle Ages, brazenly facing her (probably unjustified) death sentence.

Day 15 – subdued
Celeste bound straw to her breasts.
She wound it about her arms and legs.
‘A holy scarecrow!’ they jeered.
Head high, she faced the stake.
She would never be subdued.

#8 Use Descriptive, Concise Language

Shorter sentences, greater impact, says Jones. My Day 12 entry (‘shimmer’) included a long middle sentence. I like its descriptive aspect, but not its length.

Day 12 – shimmer
Marina splashed into the water.
The sea shimmered like a vast salt lake, its crystal light jitterbugging to the pulse of wind and tide.
Breathing deeply, she joined the dance.

Towards North Beach, from Bawley Point, New South Wales

#9 Create Surprise and Provide a Twist

‘A good piece of flash fiction often simply illuminates a fleeting moment … If you can surprise your reader then you’re onto a good thing.’ More sage advice from Gareth Jones. Having dipped my toes into the waters of tanka, I’m familiar with conveying fleeting moments and surprises (called ‘pivots’ in tanka). Some of my flash fiction (for example, Day 10’s ‘twinkle’) illustrated a fleeting moment, but I didn’t manage to create any surprises.

Day 10 – twinkle
At the wedding reception, Cedric watched the youngsters, twinkle-toed, twirling across the dance floor. His feet tapped beneath the table. He could still trip the light fantastic in his mind.

#10 Present a Memorable Last Line

Aim for a final line ‘with a little punch’, says Jones. I like my last line for Day 14 (‘horizon’). It’s succinct (so it meets the criterion for #8), it has no unnecessary words (#4), and it has a good, two-beat rhythm.

Day 14 – horizon
The move to London was meant to be a bold adventure.
But Margaret missed the outback skies.
Without the horizon, her vision vanished.

View from Sculpture Park, Broken Hill, New South Wales

#11 Write a Powerful Title

According to Jones, the ‘title is a part of the story’ in flash fiction. But for the Victorian Writers Flash Fiction Challenge, no titles were required. The word prompt became the de facto title.

#12 Get Others to Review and Critique Your Story

‘Be open to criticism and suggestions.’ Jones’s advice applies to all forms of writing. Beta readers, manuscript assessors, editors and proofreaders can all play a role in honing early drafts and later revisions.

The Victorian Writers competition didn’t allow much time for review and critique. The hint word was provided at 8am and entries had to be submitted by midnight. However, the flash fiction community provided excellent feedback. Although the undertaking was a ‘competition’, the spirit of collegiality and generosity shared by participants was more like a team sport where everyone was on the same side. Ultimately, there were some ‘winners’ – you can read them here – but I suspect every writer enjoyed and benefitted from the experience.

And that is Gareth Jones’s parting point – ‘enjoy the challenge’. Flash fiction ‘affords you the opportunity to play with a nugget of an idea and, hopefully, come up with something interesting, fresh and illuminating.’

My thanks to Writers Victoria for hosting their annual flash fiction exercise which is open to allcomers.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!

Links and Sources

Flash fiction, micro-fiction, postcard fiction ... one writing form, many names. I dip my toes in its waters courtesy of Writers Victoria's annual competition.
Writers Victoria tweet with prompt for Day 30 of Flash Fiction 2022

Cricket Books for Aussie Kids

How’s your ramp coming along? Spotted a good ‘jaffa’ lately? Enjoy hanging out at ‘cow corner’? No, I’m not talking house construction, confectionery or farming. I’m talking cricket – batting shots, bowling deliveries, fielding positions.

Cricket has a language all its own and part of the delight in reading about cricket is discovering new words and meanings. Cricket-themed children’s books can also entice reluctant readers to spend some time between the pages, especially when their cricketing heroes are front and centre.

This selection of books for children will appeal to those who are already cricket fans – be they young or old – and they may help steer the uninitiated toward cricket appreciation.

Books are listed under the following headings: Picture Books, Younger Readers, Middle Grade Readers and Non-fiction. Titles of book series are bolded; titles of standalone books are italicised. Links will usually go to the book publisher’s website. Most books listed are in print at the time of writing; those that are not can often be found in public libraries.

Please note: age recommendations are a guide only.

Picture Books

It’s never too early to start…

Grug Plays Cricket (2009), Ted Prior (text and illus.) Ages: 2+

With trademark simplicity, Ted Prior conjures a cricketing experience for his shaggy creation in Grug Plays Cricket. Grug invites Cara the snake to play. The pitch and scoreboard are readied. Grug and Cara take turns at batting and bowling. There are a couple of impressive catches. The end.

What’s not to love about Grug!

Cara ’catches’ the ball, Grug Plays Cricket

The 12th Dog (2017), Charlotte Calder (text), Tom Jellett (illus.) Ages: 3+

A humorous tale, The 12th Dog tells the story of Arlo (the 12th dog of the title) who has a habit of catching the ball and not returning it. All is forgiven the day he hurtles into the stumps and runs Holly out. Well, almost all, he still has some unreturned balls tucked away.

Arlo’s stash of unreturned balls, The 12th Dog

Cricket, I Just Love It! (2021), Alister Nicholson (text), Tom Jellett (illus.) Ages: 4+

As an ABC Grandstand cricket commentator, Alister Nicholson has been at the forefront of women’s cricket coverage, and it’s good to see girls receive equal billing in the text of Cricket, I Just Love It! and in Jellett’s action-packed illustrations. Pictures also include children from a mix of ethnic backgrounds, plus one young lad who takes on the game from his wheelchair.

Cricket, I Just Love It! is a rollicking romp through some of the sport’s big names (Lanning and Perry, Bradman and Ponting), its iconic emblems (the baggy green), and its idiosyncratic nomenclature (jaffas, ducks, bunnies). Most of all, it’s about playing the game and having fun.

Visit publisher Allen & Unwin’s website to listen to the book being read by Nicholson.

‘Cricket, I work at it!’, Cricket, I Just Love It!

Over Is Out (2018), Lachlan Creagh and Sarah Creagh (text), Lachlan Creagh (illus.) Ages: 4+

Over Is Out plays on a common backyard cricket rule: ‘over the fence is out’. In the Creaghs’ story, the ball sails into the neighbour’s yard and one young cricketer is sent to retrieve it. Unfortunately for him, the neighbours are dinosaurs. The book utilises the ‘there and back again’ narrative as the young batter scampers around the neighbour’s yard, seeking the ball among a variety of dinosaurs. He makes a quick exit as T-Rex stirs.

There’s some clever humour in the ending to this delightful tale in which the illustrations combine effectively with the text to ‘tell the story’.

‘I think he wants to play!’, Over Is Out

Howzat! (2014), Mike Lefroy (text), Liz Anelli (illus.) Ages: 5+

A rhyming story that skips around the globe. The opening and closing endpapers show maps of the story’s route through twelve countries, and double-page illustrations throughout the book provide plenty of country-specific context. The Australian scene (I think at Bondi Beach) includes a ubiquitous ute, surf lifesaving flags and a streaker. The final illustration is a joyous melange of cricketing fans and players from across the world.

This book is currently out of print, but I hope there are copies in many school and public libraries. Liz Anelli’s illustrations are a real joy. Teaching resources are available via Walker Books website.

Cricket’s ‘United Nations’, Howzat!

Maxx Rumble (2004–2005, re-published 2012–2013), Michael Wagner (text), Terry Denton (illus.) Ages: 6+

Michael Wagner has created three sports-themed series featuring young Maxx Rumble – two are football-based (Australian Rules football and soccer) and the third is Maxx Rumble: Cricket. Each cricket book is packed with the characters’ flair for imagination and hyperbole (matched by Terry Denton’s madcap illustrations) and the variation in font size suits beginning readers who are getting used to chapter books. The eight cricket titles are available separately or in one omnibus edition (although the physical size of the latter may be daunting for young readers).

Merv was ‘out like a light’ in the field – Maxx Rumble, Book 5, Hammered!

Boomerang and Bat: The Story of the Real First Eleven (2016), Mark Greenwood (text), Terry Denton (illus.) Ages: 7+

Boomerang and Bat tells the story of the first Australian cricket team to tour England – a team comprising Aboriginal players coached by English cricketer and Australian settler Charles Lawrence. Based on solid historical research, Greenwood’s text incorporates the challenges, discrimination and griefs that beset the touring team including the refusal of the Board for the Protection of Aborigines to allow the team to leave Australia (Lawrence smuggled them out) and the death in England of batter King Cole (Bripumyarrimin).

Detailed teaching resources available via Allen & Unwin’s website.

‘“We’re sick for our country,” said Johnny’, Boomerang and Bat

Knockabout Cricket: A Story of Sporting Legend – Johnny Mullagh (2014), Neridah McMullin (text), Ainsley Walters (illus.) Ages: 8+

A picture book for older children, Knockabout Cricket interweaves factual information about Aboriginal cricketer Johnny Mullagh (Unaarrimin) with a fictional re-creation of his introduction to the game. The fictional account is told from the perspective of a squatter’s son; the factual account provides the story of Mullagh’s participation in what was probably the first Boxing Day match played at the MCG and his subsequent selection in the first Aboriginal team to tour England.

(Since 2020, six years after the publication of Knockabout Cricket, the Mullagh Medal has been presented to the player of the match in the MCG’s Boxing Day Test. The first recipient was India’s Ajinkya Rahane; in 2021, the medal went to Australian fast bowler Scott Boland, a Gulidjan man.)

Teaching resources for Knockabout Cricket are available via the author’s website.

Johnny Mullagh takes a catch, Knockabout Cricket

Younger Readers

Most cricket-themed books for younger readers are part of a larger series where cricket is generally the focus of just one book among a broader range of sports-themed titles. The series (not all listed here) tend to feature male protagonists with girls, when present, taking on minor roles. Happily, recent publications are beginning to address this imbalance.

Sporty Kids: Cricket (2016), Felice Arena (text), Tom Jellett (illus.) Ages: 6+

Part of Felice Arena and Tom Jellett’s Sporty Kids series, this story features the annual neighbourhood cricket match between the Karim and Petersson families. The match is in doubt when Pete Karim’s parents are unable to play so Pete calls up his Grandpa (complete with walking frame), his two friends Abby and Angus, and his dog Warnie. It’s game on!

‘“Six!’ yelled Grandpa.’ – Sporty Kids, Cricket

Mighty Mitch (2017–2019), Mitchell Starc and Tiffany Malins (text), Philip Bunting (illus.) Ages: 7+

Mitchell Starc teams up with Tiffany Malins and Philip Bunting to create a funny, fast-paced series featuring mixed gender, multicultural cricket teams. Told from a first-person viewpoint, the Mighty Mitch stories focus on the Wander Hill Wombats Under-10s team. Mitch’s mate Joshua Camilleri is the archetypal prankster and mischief maker, injecting humour and unpredictability into each story.

The books include some insider jokes (e.g. a character named Hayden Matthews and a cricket trophy called ‘The Cinders’). All books include a diagram of fielding positions and batting shots, along with a list of cricketing terms and their meanings.

‘Howzat!’ – Mighty Mitch, Book 5, Day Night Decider

Middle Grade Readers

As with books for younger readers, those aimed at the middle grade reader (8–12 years) tend to be published in series. Individual books range from about 140 to 200 pages in length. Just like the books for beginning readers, there is a preponderance of male authors (with a couple of notable exceptions).

The Kaboom Kid (2014–2017), Dave Warner with J V McGee and J S Black (text), Jules Faber (illus.) Ages: 8+

The eight-book series The Kaboom Kid is narrated in the third person by protagonist Davey Warner, an 11-year-old, left-handed batter who plays for the Sandhill Sluggers. His friends include best mate Sunil Deep and his bat, nicknamed ‘Kaboom’. Davey’s regular adversaries are Shimmer Bay’s captain, Josh Jarrett (aka Mr Perfect), and the school bully Mo Clouter.

The lightly illustrated, large print books are available in omnibus editions: Crazy for Cricket includes books 1–4; Hitting It Home includes books 5–8.

Davey Warner’s bedroom – The Kaboom Kid, Book 1, The Big Switch

Big Bash League (2016–2017), Michael Panckridge (text), James Fosdike (illus.) Ages: 8+

For fans of the men’s (BBL) and women’s (WBBL) Big Bash Leagues, Panckridge’s books offer neat tie-ins between young players (fictional) and the teams they support (both BBL and WBBL). Five of the eight books in the series feature cricketing tips and information, along with team and player statistics for BBL and WBBL teams. The statistics (e.g. Best results, Highest individual score) are, necessarily, only accurate up to the date of publication.

The books are set in the various cities around Australia that host a Big Bash team and the cast of characters is new for each book. At least one girl and one boy appear on the cover of each book and this gender parity is generally reflected in the stories.

‘I barrack for the Brisbane Heat’ – Big Bash League, Book 2, Captains’ Clash

Ellyse Perry (2016–2017), Ellyse Perry and Sherryl Clark (text), Jeremy Lord (illus.) Ages: 8+

In the only series (to date) by one of Australia’s women cricketers, Ellyse Perry teams up with established children’s author Sherryl Clark in a four-book series. The first book, Pocket Rocket, starts with Ellyse embarking on life at secondary school. Small for her age, she is dismissed by the school’s cricket coach but the determined youngster, with dedicated support from her father, persists with her sporting ambitions and is eventually rewarded. Book four in the series, Double Time, concentrates on the clash Ellyse experiences when wanting to play both cricket and soccer. (Perry has represented Australia at national level in both sports.)

A feature of all four books is the growing and changing bond between Ellyse and her school friends, emblematic of the often fractious relationships among adolescent girls.

Cover images, Ellyse Perry titles

Nips XI and Nips Go National (2000, 2003), Ruth Starke (text) Ages: 8+

First published in 2000, Nips XI remains in print due to the quality of Ruth Starke’s storytelling. Starke, an award-winning children’s author, knew nothing about cricket when began her two-book series but the first book, Nips XI, went on to receive an honourable mention in the UNESCO Prize for Children’s and Young People’s Literature in the Service of Tolerance (for readers under 13 years of age).

Nips XI and its sequel Nips Go National centre on Lan Nguyen and his friends from North Illaba Primary School – hence the seemingly racist acronym NIPS. Lan and his ethnically diverse classmates form a cricket team in an endeavour to be accepted as genuine Australians. They manage to acquire the services of a coach, an ex-Australian spin bowler, who instils in his charges both the principles and ethics of the game.

Nips XI culminates in a match between the Nips and the highly fancied Kings School. Who wins? According to the Nips coach, ‘the game won’ (p.223).

Teaching resources available from Hachette.

Cover image, Nips XI, courtesy of Hachette

Toby Jones (2006–2007, 2008–2009), Michael Panckridge and Brett Lee (text) Ages: 10+

Author Michael Panckridge combines with Australian fast bowler Brett Lee to create this time slip series. The point of departure for each of the five books is match recorded in the ‘cricket bible’, Wisden. Each title includes Lee’s cricket tips and summaries of selected games, for example, the 1960 tied test between Australia and the West Indies.

Originally published as five separate books, the stories in the Toby Jones series were later published in two omnibus editions, Hat Trick (2008) and HowZat! (2009).

Cover images, Tony Jones titles

Glenn Maxwell (2014–2015), Patrick Loughlin (text), James Hart (illus.) Ages: 10+

True confessions time: this series is my personal favourite among the Middle Grade readers.

Most of the series developed by renowned cricketers (whether as writers, ghost-writers or consultants) re-create the cricketer’s life as a young, up-and-coming player. Patrick Loughlin instead casts Glenn Maxwell as a coach and guide to young (fictional) players.

In the Glenn Maxell series, 12-year-old Will Albright, a Melbourne boy, first tries out for squad selection at the Victorian T20 Youth Academy. (He is, of course, successful, or there would be no more books.) Will progresses to the State T20 team, then the national team and, finally, captains the internationally touring Youth World Cup team.

Along the way, Will has two constant friends: fellow boys’ team member Shavil Kumar and the capable (and, to Will, increasingly attractive) Zoe Jarrett, a member of the corresponding girls’ team.

Glen Maxwell pops up throughout the books, offering Will wise tips and sound guidance gleaned from his own longstanding cricket career. In Academy All-Stars, for instance, when Will is struggling as an opening batter, and in danger of losing his spot in the team, Maxwell suggests the young player add spin bowling to his repertoire: ‘sometimes you have to find out how to fit into the team, not how to make the team fit you’ (108).

‘“Lucky shot,” said Zoe’ – Glenn Maxwell, Book 2, Academy All-Stars

Non-fiction

Most of the cricketers involved in the creation of children’s fiction series attest to the influence of non-fiction cricket books during their developmental years in the sport. Today, an increasing number of current and ex-players turn their hand to autobiographies, targeted at adult audiences. There is not a similarly large choice of books aimed at the children’s market. Then again, maybe one really good book is all that’s required…

A History of Cricket (2011), Catherine Chambers Ages: 12+

Chambers begins her book this way: ‘Cricket just has to be the mightiest, most noble game. The pinnacle of all physical, mental and emotional tests’ (1). The reader is in no doubt where the author’s sympathy lies!

A History of Cricket is packed with information. Some chapters focus on the development of the game in a particular country (e.g. ‘ India: The Jewel in the Cricket Crown’), others have a thematic focus (e.g. ‘Women’s Cricket’, ‘Batting Greats’). There is little coverage of the West Indies or the African cricket-playing nations but, apart from that, almost every aspect of the game is covered with break out boxes providing greater detail about some of cricket’s exceptional players, and ample information on the different formats of the game, bowling terms and fielding positions.

Chambers doesn’t overlook the role of umpires – a vital, but often ignored element in children’s books. She also incorporates some wonderful quips from cricket commentators and authors. English broadcaster Henry Blofeld is quoted as saying: ‘One-day cricket is an exhibition. Test cricket is an examination.’ I’ll give the last word to American comedian Groucho Marx, unaccustomed to the nuances of cricket, who, after staring at a match for a very long time asked: ‘So when does it begin?’

Entry for Glenn McGrath, A History of Cricket

Links and Sources

My thanks to the National Library of Australia and the Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Library Service. All books listed are held at one or both of these libraries.