This is How a Flash Fiction Contest on Chuck Wendig’s Website Got Me a Playwriting Gig and Then a Writing Residency in England.

This is the story of how I turned a flash fiction story written in an hour for a Flash Fiction thing on Chuck Wendig’s blog into a week-long writing residency in Exeter in the U.K.

Chuck Wendig is the author of numerous books (buy Wonderers and thank me later) but I first encountered him as a blogger through Twitter.

Every now and then I would participate in his Flash Fiction Friday contests, where he’d challenge his blog readers to write a flash fiction story (max 1000 words) to a given theme. I think I participated three times.

A little story

One of those stories, Bend, Don’t Break, has somehow ballooned into a play and a writing residency.

It’s the story of two brothers carrying a rolled-up carpet through a swamp. Something in the carpet coughs. The brothers settle matters.

You can read it by clicking the link above. Go ahead. It’s just about 1000 words.

Into a play

In translating it into Icelandic, I changed one brother into a sister and somehow the dialogue took on a life of its own and became a short play. I pitched it to Reykjavik Arts Festival, who were looking for short plays to be professionally produced and staged. It was accepted and I got paid to work on it at Reykjavik Theater, where it was performed (once) as part of Reykjavik Arts Festival.

I got a wonderful director and great help from the Reykjavik Theater’s dramaturgy,

The play was about siblings who meet up in the brother’s dingy apartment in the bad part of town. She is a lawyer and he’s a drug dealer and strongarm. They settle the matter of their lives and how each of them turned out, with the big reveal being that the brother’s underworld money paid the sister’s way through law school not, as she had thought, an inheritance they had received. Turns out their father squandered the inheritance on booze.

Into a week-long paid writing residency in Exeter

I saw an ad on Facebook for a writing residency in Exeter. It was sponsored by The British Council and they were looking for Icelandic writers of noir. Whoever was selected would get paid flights to the U.K. and an apartment in Exeter for a week, along with some money.

I had a book I was working on that was noir, I am Icelandic and like the U.K. My only thought was that there are so many more talented and successful writers here that there’s no way I would be selected. But you don’t get things you don’t ask for, so I applied.

I got an interview and then when they asked for references in terms of my writing. “Oh shit,” I thought. “I don’t have an editor or an agent or anything.”

Then I thought that I might ask the director and dramaturg for references. Luckily, they both said yes. Also luckily, they had both been promited – one now the theater’s Artistic Director and the other the Director of the Reykjavik Arts Festival. I imagine they appeared impressive as references (lucky for me).

Reader, I got the residency.

So last summer I got to spend an entire week in an apartment in beautiful Exeter, attend some events as part of their Quay Words festival and gave a talk on Scandinavian Noir. And they paid me for it!

I spent the week writing for most of the day, sneaking out to a pub for dinner and a beer as I decided on the next day’s work and then back to the apartment to read or watch a movie.

I now have a complete novel that I am polishing and have already submitted to a few agents. All thanks to a little flash fiction thing on Chuck Wendig’s blog.

So thanks Chuck, for challenging your readers to write Flash.