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Dr Peter Blair’s, Dr Ashley Chantler’s, and Dr Ian Seed’s Impact Research Project: Flash Fiction: Inspiring, developing, and publishing writers across the UK and around the globe (REF2021)

What have you done so far?

Since 2006, we have been at the forefront of establishing flash fiction (stories of up to 500 words) in the UK and beyond, through local, regional, national, and international initiatives. Our work has inspired beneficiaries of all ages to read and write flashes, nurtured creativity, developed literacy and writing skills, and provided opportunities for publication.

In 2015, we brought these endeavours together under the umbrella of the International Flash Fiction Association (IFFA), of which we are Directors; the following year, Dr Ian Seed joined us as Assistant Director.

Our impact project is underpinned by path-breaking research including Ashley’s chapter ‘Notes Towards the Definition of the Short-Short Story’ in The Short Story (Cambridge Scholars, 2008), two author-interviews in Short Fiction in Theory and Practice (both 2014), and Peter’s article ‘Hyper-compressions: The Rise of Flash Fiction in “Post-transitional” South Africa’ in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature (2018). Scholarship and impact come together in Peter’s annually updated ‘Flash Fiction’ article in the bestselling Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for 2014, 2015, and 2016 (Bloomsbury).

Key to our other, non-commercial impacts are two forms of practice-led research: the Directors’ and Assistant Director’s creative-writing publications; and the Directors’ editing of a leading literary magazine (Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, launched in 2008) and a respected small press (Flash: The International Short-Short Story Press, established in 2015).

Ian’s small stories explore the interface between flash and the prose poem. They have appeared in Flash magazine (for which he is a regular reviewer), and such prestigious publications as Granta, PN Review, and The Best Small Fictions 2017 (Braddock Books). His collections include Makers of Empty Dreams (2014), Identity Papers (2016), New York Hotel (2018), and The Underground Cabaret (2020).

Makers of Empty Dreams was featured on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb (16 March 2016), where Seed was in conversation with the poet Ian McMillan; it was translated into Italian as Sognatore di sogni vuoti (Rome: Edizioni Ensemble, 2018) and launched in Rome, where Seed gave a reading and was in discussion with his translator. New York Hotel was a TLS Book of the Year, the Times Literary Supplement reviewer praising ‘Seed’s micro-narratives and oblique parables’ as ‘at once droll and haunting, as unpredictable as quicksand’ (23 Nov. 2018); the collection was subsequently featured on BBC Radio Merseyside (17 Jan. 2019). Ian has also given public readings in Chester, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and London.

Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, the first biannual print periodical for flashes, reviews, and occasional essays (all of no more than 360 words), was founded by Peter and Ashley, and is now one of the world’s most influential and respected flash-fiction magazines. Approximately 8,000 stories have been submitted, of which we have published around 1,100, by 600 authors from forty-eight countries across six continents. These include stories in translation from nine languages: Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, German, Greek, Hebrew, Icelandic, Serbian, and Spanish.

While Flash regularly features established authors (amongst them Ama Ata Aidoo, Margaret Atwood, Beryl Bainbridge, Lydia Davis, James Kelman, Bernard MacLaverty, and Jon McGregor), the large majority of its published flashes are by aspiring writers from beyond the academy. Impacts on commercial publishing and writers’ careers include at least 83 flashes reprinted in 33 books by 22 publishers.

 Flash: The International Short-Short Story Press has published four short single-author collections; two novellas-in-flash; and and two multi-author anthologies, notably Funny Bone: Flashing for Comic Relief (2017), edited by Peter and Ashley and sold in aid of the charity.

Other Press publications and Flash issues are sold on a not-for-profit basis. Any surplus is put towards our annual National Flash Fiction Youth Competition (UK),  which we founded in 2013 to encourage schools to teach the reading and writing of flash. Teachers are supported by the IFFA’s webpage Flash Schools: Talks and Resources. Locally, we have delivered workshops on flash to students at Key Stages 3, 4, and 5 in five secondary schools.

A portfolio of flashes by Key Stage 2 (Year 6) children from the University Church Free School Flash Fiction Competition, which we devised and judged in collaboration with their teacher to nurture literacy and creativity, was presented to HRH The Duchess of Cornwall at Chester Cathedral in March 2018.

Other outreach events include four admission-free ‘Uni at the Fest’ talks and workshops at the annual Chester Literature Festival at Storyhouse, and Peter’s talk at Gladfest literary festival at Gladstone’s Library in North Wales.

We have given public seminars in London (Peter) and Rome (Ashley), and have been significant contributors to the UK’s annual Flash Fiction Festivals (Bath and Bristol) since their inauguration in 2017, when Peter gave the opening keynote talk.

We have also been invited readers at ‘live literature’ events in Cheshire and Manchester, and have judged free-to-enter local and international flash-writing competitions in collaboration with Chester Library and Gladstone’s Library.

Feedback on the IFFA’s numerous impact activities, gathered from participants, organizers, teachers, reviewers, and other stakeholders, has been extremely positive. A Flash Fiction Festival 2018 workshop on ‘Submitting Your Flashes to Magazines’, for example, was praised as ‘lively’, ‘informative’, ‘insightful’, ‘thought-provoking’, ‘valuable’, ‘really useful, practical’. Participants enjoyed the ‘deft “double act”’, one commenting: ‘In 1982 I saw Hale and Pace at the Hammersmith Apollo. They were funnier but less knowledgeable about flash fiction than Peter and Ash.’ Attendees at other events, many of them new to the form, often comment on a life-enhancing experience and our positive impact on their reading habits and writing practices. For example, Peter’s talk at Chester Literature Festival 2017 was ‘Informative, illuminating, interesting, amazing!!’; another person wrote: ‘Brilliant! I love the analysis you provided! I now want to write flash fiction!’

Material relating to the magazine and Press is collected in the IFFA Archive, which dates back to 2008. We also curate the Flash Fiction Special Collection of books, housed in the University’s Seaborne Library and available to the public on request.

The IFFA website’s range of public resources includes sample stories and Editorials from each issue of Flash, as well as full open access to the Directors’ interviews first published in Short Fiction in Theory and Practice. Our social-media accounts have established themselves as important sources of information and interaction for flash fiction readers and writers: on Facebook (International Flash Fiction Network) and Twitter (Flash Fiction @shortstorymag).

What do you plan to do next?

We will continue to offer inspiration and publishing opportunities to emerging writers by editing two issues of Flash magazine each year. A future special issue will be devoted to South African stories. We are also compiling an anthology of the best pieces from over a decade of Flash. A ‘Flash Audio’ page for our website, featuring writers reading their stories from Flash, is in development. Engagement is ongoing with schools, festivals, writing groups, and our online writing communities.

Professor Deborah Wynne’s Impact Research Project: Textile Stories: Enhancing public knowledge of the relationship between textiles and literary texts (REF2021)

What I’ve done so far

My research into the role of textiles in Victorian literature and culture led to the establishment of the Textile Stories project, a public engagement venture centred on annual study days. These began in 2013 and were designed to bring together people interested in all aspects of textiles culture. Participants include professionals (such as teachers of needlecrafts, artists, pattern-cutters, rare-breed sheep farmers, designers and heritage workers) and amateurs (including crafts hobbyists, vintage clothes fans, and fans of costume drama). Many people have reported in feedback that they were inspired to read books and watch films they might otherwise ignore. Some have gone on to engage in further study and try new crafts. The aim of the ‘Textiles Stories’ project is to offer an enriched understanding of the cultural and historical role of textiles and their significance in literary texts and adaptations.

Some of study days have involved collaborations with museums, such as the Silk Museum, Macclesfield, the Flaxmill and Maltings, Shrewsbury, and the National Trust’s Attingham Park in Shropshire. I have delivered talks on costume dramas and literary adaptation; slavery, cotton and the work of Elizabeth Gaskell and W.E.B. Du Bois; Charlotte Brontë and her representations of the woollen mills of Yorkshire; and textile representations in Jane Campion’s The Piano. Other speakers at the study days have included textile artists, fashion designers, curators, textile restoration experts, costume historians, needlecraft experts, and a sheep farmer.

The study days showcase displays of work by textile artists, information about textile collections in museums, and items brought along by participants. Sometimes participants make items in workshops, such as ‘silk books’, writing short narratives inspired by silk, at the study day held at the Silk Museum in 2017. One participant stated: “I constructed a book resulting from the ‘Silk’ Study Day and was surprised at how easily a story came when given the inspiration provided from the lectures, the tour of the mill and the silk fabrics allowed to work with.”  

What I plan to do next?

Future study days are being planned. The 2020 Textile Stories study day is devoted to the theme of ‘Textiles in Action’ with talks ranging from Victorian women’s walking clothes and Edwardian parachuting outfits; soldiers’ uniforms; the textile ‘messages’ from the Foundling Museum’s collection; and Charles Dickens’s stories of rags to paper in the Victorian period. Other themes which are being considered for study days in 2021 and beyond are children and textiles; hats; textile recycling and sustainable fashion; and weaving stories.

Participants creating ‘silk books’ at ‘The Story of Silk’ study day at Macclesfield Silk Museum, 2017 (photos © Jan Gibson) See the Textile Stories blog: http://dwtextilestories.blogspot.co.uk/

Dr Eileen Pollard’s Impact Research Project: Chester Retold: Unspoken Stories, Put into Words project

What have you done so far?

This innovative project is based around a level five experiential learning module that I designed. It offers students the opportunity to take storytelling out into the community of Chester to enhance their employability. Each session is taught either at the University of Chester, Parkgate Road Campus or at Storyhouse, the city’s new arts hub. The module collaborates with a different community partner every year that is based in Chester and works to include socially marginalised groups.

Chester Retold has previously had ‘short-course’ students from Fallen Angels Dance Theatre (2018) a charity helping people recover from addiction and mental health problems through movement and dance, and LIVE! Cheshire (2019) who work to include young people with physical and/or learning disabilities. The photograph below is of the participants from LIVE! Cheshire with me (taking the picture) and the undergraduates outside Storyhouse. It gives a sense of the genuine buzz around this project!

The teaching has taken a range of forms, including talks, small group discussions, bring and shares, walks around the city walls, drawing, acting and meditation exercises – as well as flashmobs in the Storyhouse foyer! This year, English Language students enrolled on Cestrian English will be involved in some sessions, while they research local Chester and Cheshire dialects and accents.

In previous years, we have looked at storytelling through maps, memories, film, objects, storyboarding and drama, making the module highly interdisciplinary and allowing colleagues to link their teaching explicitly to their research.

For example, I teach a session on how memory informs storytelling using my research on the writing of Hilary Mantel, especially her memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. My publications on Mantel include the first ever collection of essays on her work as well as the first monograph:

  • Hilary Mantel: Contemporary Critical Perspectives, ed. by Eileen Pollard and Ginette Carpenter (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2018)
  • Origin and Ellipsis in the Writing of Hilary Mantel: An Elliptical Dialogue with the Thinking of Jacques Derrida (New York and Oxon: Routledge, 2019)

I have also published a peer-reviewed pedagogical case study on the first year of Chester Retold:

On the basis of such innovative practice, I was nominated as the University of Chester’s candidate for the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme in 2019 and I won the Innovative Teacher of the Year, Staff Teaching Award the same year.

Chester Retold will form a Department of English Impact Case Study in the future.

English department students

What do you plan to do next?

In preparation for the third year of delivery, I am now exploring public engagement, policy and funding angles. My first steps have been applying to deliver a British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies (BACLS) sponsored paper at the English Shared Futures 2020 conference and pitching to be a speaker at the University of Chester TEDx event in February 2020.

I have also approached Brightlife, an organisation committed to tackling loneliness and social isolation in the over 50s in Chester and Cheshire West, as a potential community partner for the module in summer 2020. At the same time, I have applied to Brightlife for funding to support the further development and growth of the Chester Retold project.

I am contacting Chester MP, Chris Matheson, as well to begin the process of trying to influence directions in Arts and Health policy in the future.