Postcard Stories by Jan Carson

Epistolary Treasures

Jan Carson Author Northern Ireland FictionI just love the concept of these works of flash fiction, postcard size stories, that have a geographic connection to a street or location in Northern Ireland, that originated as a story written on the back of a postcard – an alternative restriction to the usual one when writing flash fiction, of keeping it to 100 -150 words – and that the postcard was both sent and retained, a gift and an accumulated collection.

This not quite Ireland proper/ is not the Mainland/ is certainly not Europe in the Continental sense.

When I first picked it up, a little while ago now, I looked at the contents and went to read a few entries from the locations that were familiar to me, Belfast International Airport, Newtownards Road, Holywood Road, Linenhall Street, Holywood, Ormeau Road, but of course that was me thinking of my own story, so it didn’t make much sense. I was looking for something that wasn’t there.

Removing Expectations

So now I read it again, this time from the beginning and just allow it to tell me its own story, its bite sized exercise in writing, the awakening of imagination, the sharing of the craft, its way of thinking of others while being in the act of creation.

The book is thoughtfully illustrated by Benjamin Phillips. You can view the images from the book via the link provided through his name. They are truly evocative.

Postcard Stories Jan Carson Ireland

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

I read, am entertained and wonder what it must have been like to receive one of these. Is there a connection between the story and the recipient, is it random, did they reply, did they understand the motivation of the author, did it matter? How did you get to be one of the recipients? Does she really have that many friends whose addresses she knows, a database perhaps, or is the postcard sending a fiction in itself?

Here she is practicing using the second person narrative voice from Week 6, February 5th, 2015, Cathedral Quarter, Belfast from a postcard sent to Claire Buswell.

When you were seven years old you threw a dart at a black-haired girl, running away in the garden. The dart lodged and stuck just below her shoulder blade. She fell forward in the grass. The flight on the dart was red and black and white. These were also the colours of the duvet cover in your parents’ bedroom. This was the 80’s. Afterwards the dart came away clean as needles. No harm done. You did not tell and neither did she.

I’ve read Jan Carson’s novel The Fire Starters, I know she is a fan of absurdist fiction. I also know that she works in the community arts sector and has taught creative writing skills to people to help build empathy, using storytelling to show how we can imagine being in the shoes of another. I remember being reassured by this knowledge, because the protagonist in her novel completely lacks empathy, and that is a frightening thing.

Cafés and Markets, Happiness or Disappointment

Susan Picken receives Week 45’s November story from Victoria Square, Belfast:

‘If your drink doesn’t make you happy, we’ll make you another,’ I read aloud, pointing to the sign above the barista’s head. It’s been there, right behind him, with the toastie machine and the coffee syrups, for so long now that he’s forgotten all about it.

melancholy free coffee happy unhappyIt turns out there are only so many free coffees a person can drink before realising a hot beverage cannot cure loneliness, grief or melancholy.

The collection ends in Week 52  at St George’s Market on a sorrowful note, that makes me think I ought to take my own aromatherapy potions to the Christmas market, offering an antidote to the melancholy nature of some of this population.

Every year during the month leading up to Christmas, Eleanor takes a stall at St George’s Market and sells disappointment in small, hand-made bottles…She stocks any number of different disappointments: the disappointment of an unsupportive parent, the disappointment of a homely child, the disappointment of being alone or not nearly alone enough, the disappointment of cats, good wine, box sets and religion, the dry disappointment of Christmas Day evening which is easily the most popular product on her stall.

I have Postcard Stories 2, so I will be hoping that perhaps, as we wander more streets in the year that followed Postcard Stories, there might be reason for more optimism and perhaps we might learn how to get on the postcard list.

Further Reading

Irish Times Interview: Jan Carson – girl from the north country by Ruth McKee

Jan Carson, Author

Northern Ireland Author Fiction

Jan Carson by ©Jonathan Ryder

Jan Carson is a writer and community arts facilitator based in Belfast. Her debut novel Malcom Orange Disappears (2014) was published to critical acclaim, followed by a short-story collection, Children’s Children (2016), and two flash fiction anthologies Postcard Stories (2017) and Postcard Stories 2 (2020).

Her second novel The Fire Starters (2019) translated into French by Dominique Goy-Blanquet as Les Lanceurs de Feu, won the EU Prize for Literature, was shortlisted for two prestigious French literary awards the Prix Femina and Prix Médicis in 2021 and was also shortlisted for the Dalkey Novel of the Year Award.

The most recent book The Last Resort, a collection of ten linked short stories set in a fictional caravan park, was published in April 2021.

Her work has appeared in numerous journals and on BBC Radio 3 & 4. She runs arts projects and events with older people especially those living with dementia.

Buzzard

Friday Fictioneers is the brainchild of Madison Woods who posts a photo prompt each Friday to inspire followers to write a piece of flash fiction. After observing Rich participate I decided before I read his work, to see if anything was lurking in the depths of my imagination that wanted out, and Voila here it is, slightly longer at 150 words, but I’m ok with that.

    

A Man’s Best Friend

What’s she called?
Buzzard.

Buzzard? As in bird?
Yeh mate, Buzzard.

Bit strange for a dog don’t you think?

If I thought it was strange I’d have called her Bud, wouldn’t I?

Yeh, I guess.
Come on then, you gonna give me a hand or not. You get the front and take it slow down them stairs, I got the back. And no chat, I don’t want nosy neighbours asking stuff ‘ll give us more to do.

The two men lifted the long rectangular box off the table and walked towards the front door of the near empty apartment. Descending the stairs, they kept the deadweight container level until they got outside then slid it into the back of the waiting yute.

But where did you get Buzzard from?

Easy, wasn’t it. Last thing I saw before I picked up the body. That and the dog. So you gonna drive or me?

Wild Horses and Flash Fiction

Its National Flash Fiction Day today in the United Kingdom, celebrating the short, short form of fiction, the art of telling a story in less than 1,000 words and more often only 150 words.

David Gaffney shares his experience of writing and being published in the form and offers these tips:

  1. Start in the middle
  2. Don’t use too many characters
  3. Make sure the ending isn’t at the end
  4. Sweat your title
  5. Make your last line ring like a bell
  6. Write long, then go short

He goes on to explain each tip, click here to reveal his words of wisdom.

And here is my attempt to tell a story in 150 words, word by word.

*

The Muster

*

I ride bareback with just a halter and lead into the midst of the herd, gently coaxing them out from under the trees. My mount quivers beneath me; fear pervades the damp atmosphere and I exhale deeply to expel it.

The sound of a gunshot spooks the stallion and the horses move. Bright sunlight extinguishes shadows as they bolt, branches cracking beneath the drum of hooves.

My father is in position. The herd veers to the right. At the river bank there is a two metre drop into the water and we do not hesitate. I grip hard with my knees and feel muscle ripple beneath me bracing itself for the jump. Something knocks my shoulder and I cry out as we plunge head first into the torrent.

“Wake up son, we’re mustering that herd of wild horses today” my father says as I open my eyes.