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For this installment of A Flash of Inspiration, we’re featuring Mandira Pattnaik and her story “A Boy, a Mother, Nature,” which originally appeared in Litro on August 13, 2021.
Hello, Mandira, and congratulations on your Highly Commended Story “A Boy, A Mother, Nature” in Litro’s Nature Summer Flash Fiction Competition! Thanks for joining us for this interview.
Thank you so much, delighted and honoured! Thanks for inviting me!
You have an impressive body of work – how long have you been writing flash fiction and what drew you to this form? How do you feel that flash fiction compares to other genres?
Thank you, that’s most kind! I’ve been actively writing and submitting to literary magazines since late 2018–early 2019, after a short story I submitted on a whim to one of India’s leading online publishers went on to become the Editor’s Pick. I soon discovered the charm of flash and the huge possibilities of the form. Given the constraints of time, my passion for the short story, and knowing that I could write poetry (my first published was a poem in 1994), flash fiction was the perfect thing that fit in. I think flash fiction is a bridge between the short story and poem. Flash tells a complete story in the brief scope of a poem and is, therefore, just right!
Your story “A Boy, A Mother, Nature” brings the reader in close with themes of maternity and intimacy but also invites us to think of the broader context of our threatened world. Who was the reader you had in mind when you conceived this story?
I feel strongly about climate change and our environment, writing about it in many of my pieces. Also, we grew up imagining nature as mother – benevolent and all-powerful. So the two themes blended perfectly from the outset. I intended it for readers concerned about the threat and hoped that the underlying theme resonated with everyone.
Tell us some of your preferences: Urban or rural? Domestic or exotic? Language or plot? First, second, or third person? Male or female protagonist?
Like everyone else, I do have preferences and tend to write accordingly. But the moment I realise it, I consciously try to veer away from it, writing with the next alternative. I attempt to be as different from my last work as possible. Maybe in a few years, my work will be more easily categorised!
What were you doing when your best ever idea came to you? Tell us a little about your writing routine and how you feel about the act of writing.
I was reading my son’s book titled Space when the idea for my Pushcart-nominated flash piece came to me! But I am not sure if it was the best ever, might be that the best one is still lying in my folder, unpublished! I try to write every day, however little. The act of writing on a dreary day is like a slice of sun on an overcast sky.
What do you think are the biggest challenges of producing a successful piece of flash fiction? What do you do with an unconvincing piece of work? Rework/recycle/reject?
Getting the point across, I think. And making it as honest as possible. I keep reworking my pieces. Edit, edit, edit.
Many of us are writing in different corners of the world and share our work through social media platforms. How connected do you feel to a community of writers? Is this important to you? Do you think our themes and interests overlap across the globe?
I am immensely grateful for the kind of acceptance my work has received. It is deeply humbling that my writing is being read, whether accepted or rejected, by someone so far removed from me not only by distance, but culture, language, and so much more. I definitely feel connected, appreciated, and encouraged to do what I love. Yes, our themes and interests overlap, and we identify with each other, and this sharing, I believe, enriches us.
Whose words do you admire? Who has influenced your work most?
I admire many writers, but like my writing, I tend to experiment with my reading, too! History, science, economics, geography…I read whatever fancies me. I’d like not to have a strong influence on my work.
Current bedside read? And your future projects?
I am rereading Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines.
Not looking too much into the future, I have a few pieces – flash fiction, nonfiction, sci-fi, and fantasy fiction – lined up for publication over the next few months and out to Summer 2022. Looking forward to how they are received by readers. Besides that, I’m putting together a collection of my flash pieces and also a full-length poetry book.
Thanks so much for speaking with us, Mandira!
About Catherine McNamara
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and went to Paris to study French. She ended up in West Africa running a bar. Her short story collection 'The Cartography of Others' is finalist in the People's Book Prize and won the Eyelands International Fiction Prize. Her flash fiction collection 'Love Stories for Hectic People' is out in May. Catherine lives in Italy and has great collections of West African sculpture and Italian heels.
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