We button on opinions of who we should be, we instagram impossible ideals, tweet to follow, and comment to judge.
But what if we could just let it all go? What if we took off our capes and halos, threw away our uniforms, let go of the future. What if we became who we were always supposed to be?
This is (not about) David Bowie. It’s about you.
This Is (Not About) David Bowie is the debut flash fiction collection from F.J. Morris. Surreal, strange and beautiful it shines a light on the modern day from the view of the outsider. From lost souls, to missing sisters, and dying lovers to superheroes, it shows what it really is to be human in a world that’s always expecting you to be something else.
FJ Morris dropped by Ellipsis, during a mini blog tour, to talk about this collection.
When and how did you get into writing Flash Fiction?
Well I wasn’t born with a pen in my mouth. I didn’t grow up thinking I’d be a writer. I used to write angst-ridden poetry as a teenager because it would spill out of me like music from the soul. But the problem was… my tunes were incredibly depressing – even more emo than Evanescence, and even more embarrassing. So they stayed tucked away.
After Uni, I started writing a YA novel. I can see now how writing that novel was a way for me to process what was happening to my brother at the time. His epilepsy had hospitalised him and I wanted to find a way to give this tragic part of his life, and ours, some sort of meaning, a purpose. I added magic into a situation that I couldn’t deal with. So it was incredibly important to me, this novel. I knew a publication record would help my chances of getting an agent, so I started to try my hand at the smaller stuff, and I got hooked. I loved the form and its ability to be experimental.
How did you come to be published by Retreat west?
A poet that I love, Zelda Chappel, emailed me one day to ask if I would write a collection for the indie press she was working with. We had met on Twitter. At first I wasn’t sure but then the idea of a collection inspired by David Bowie struck me like lightning and I said yes. I spent a year (on and off) writing it while going through a tricky divorce, and then, for reasons outside of anyone’s control, Zelda had to pull out of the indie press and my collection went with it.
It felt like a huge blow. I thought perhaps they dropped me because it was crap. I subbed to various American presses who were looking for collections but it got nowhere. Then Amanda announced that Retreat West were beginning their own press and were looking for authors. So I submitted my collection and got that wonderful email. I had never worked, met or submitted to Retreat West before, but they’ve been outstanding, and I would highly recommend them!
The music of David Bowie is a strong influence on this collection. Did any particular eras of his music have more of an impact than any other?
The first time I ‘met’ Bowie I was a wee babber and he was The Goblin King in The Labyrinth. Nostalgia is a strong force, so the songs from that film have a special place in my heart. I’m really bad at eras and dates and remembering details, but I do remember wanting to include as much of a range as possible. But my main focus was about how a song made me feel. I have an ancient iPod full of music and listen to tunes all day long when roaming about, but I just don’t retain the names very well.
So I’ll let you decide… I made a playlist of songs for the collection (iTunes and on Spotify) – most songs directly influenced the story, and two or three were matched post-writing.
This collection, with its eclectic mix of themes and flash fiction styles, feels like an album, was that a conscious decision?
I can’t remember! AGAIN! When Zelda and I spoke about the collection in its early days, it was going to be hand-bound with a limited print run. It was her idea to design the collection in the shape and style of a CD case. It was an ace idea. But I can’t remember if that inspired me or my collection inspired that idea. Who knows?
I was also hugely inspired by a book Tania Hershman (a fab writer and poet) gave me called The Voyager record, which is also a bit album like. So perhaps subconsciously? The way it was structured was fascinating to me, and no doubt had a big impact in making me think outside of the box.
It’s probably like asking someone to choose their favourite child but, which piece in this collection are you most proud of?
Honestly? Well I love There were no stars. But I think I’m the only one! Ha! It’s a bit bleak. It’s about two brothers and their failed dreams to be astronauts mirrored with Apollo 13’s failed attempt to reach the moon. I enjoyed discovering the narrative, and how it connected up like stars throughout. But maybe it’s true what they say. That if you love something too much as a writer – it probably shouldn’t go in?
Did you consider or try the ‘cut up’ method that Bowie often used for writing his lyrics when writing your own work?
I wish I had! The reality is I don’t own a printer and ink is pretty expensive. So yeah… who’d have thought PRINTING would be an item of luxury! But it is. I just about manage to write and work part-time, but the unglamorous part of committing to writing is that you’d don’t make a lot of money. Finding a balance between earning a living and doing what you love, is a hard one to navigate, and I’m still finding my way.
David Bowie re-invented himself often and I’ve read that he said only a handful of songs are sung by the real David Bowie. Which pieces of flash are more Freya in this collection?
That’s so interesting. And I completely get that – oh man. Totally get it. There’s a piece of me in all of them. I write a lot of poetry and these are often is at the heart of my stories; the emotional arc. To reveal those parts and why and where and how, they’re raw and personal. The whole structure of the collection is based on my own realisation, when someone asked me: ‘But what if you couldn’t save anyone?’ and that’s when my world turned upside down.
But these stories are not about Freya. Except one. Perhaps. The very last instalment of ‘Is there life on Mars?’ Maybe that one is more of me, more the shape of my heart.
Listen to FJ Morris reading Slush Puppies via YouTube.
What do you want the reader to get out of reading, This Is (Not About) David Bowie?
I want them to feel something. To feel that permission to be themselves – that empowerment. Bowie gave that to so many people and I wanted to be true to him in that sense. To give that feeling of possibility. Of hope.
Finally, what have you learnt, as a writer, about the publishing process?
That it’s a journey and not a destination. A labyrinth if you will! That you will meet parts of yourself a long the way that you didn’t realise existed, parts of yourself that you will need to face and battle with. And that’s okay. Growth isn’t painless. And it’s all part of the fantastic adventure that is life.
This Is (Not About) David Bowie is published by Retreat West Books and is available in paperback or eBook format from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and through IngramSpark and Gardners.
Buy This is (not about) David Bowie online for £6.99
FJ Morris is an award-winning writer from Bristol. She’s been published in numerous publications in the UK and internationally, and shortlisted for a variety of awards. Recently, you can find her stories soaring the skies thanks to a short story vending machine in a Canadian airport, chiming away in Salomé magazine, and walking the pages of the Stories for Homes Anthology 2 for Shelter. You can also find her stories in Bare Fiction, Halo, The Fiction Desk, Popshot, National Flash Fiction Day anthologies, and many more. freyajmorris.com
Images provided by FJ Morris