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After the Armourers by Marissa Hoffmann

After the Armourers by Marissa Hoffmann

What the judge said

'Its impact travels far beyond the page, and illustrates the best and worst of humanity. A man has transgressed a law in his society, which seems to concern marriage and perhaps that he is a different kind of father from that which is prescribed. He must complete an impossible task to survive. And it is this trial that we witness as readers, hoping against hope that he will come through. The exact well-placed details – and that devastating ending, where the father’s tenderness is again his downfall – is a brilliant example of the use of implication.'

How I did it

'I started writing fiction at evening classes when my children were small, but wasn’t published until 2018. I became interested in flash when a piece I’d written as a creative writing exercise was shortlisted in a flash competition. Now I use competition deadlines and submission windows a bit like a personal trainer. If becoming a writer is like eating the elephant, writing flash feels like taking the bites that will get me there. 

My first drafts are almost always the result of exercises on a writing course – there are some brilliant nurturing teachers in the flash community. I tend to produce better when someone expects something of me. 

This story began as a writing exercise in response to a photo of a man in the Guinness Book of Records who had attached the most spoons to his body. I was struck by the seriousness of his face, which made me think about his life – that he could smile and love and was probably a father. 

What often helps to make a story distinctive is injecting something completely different from the idea I’m working on. In this case I’d been reading about torture techniques like tarring and feathering, which led me to invent a society that used spoons as a form of punishment.   

I’ve been a reader for Atticus Review for a few years, and they ask us to justify our decisions. So I knew this story had the right ingredients: world building, character, motivation and sense that it could progress beyond the page. 

I stay connected to writing by dipping into events like the Word Factory Short Story Club and a Galley Beggar close-reading book club. My commute is devoted to podcasts like the Writer’s Voice, Stinging Fly and Paris Review. 

I fear the blank page, but once I have a draft I’m like a dog with a bone – I almost never give up on a piece. For me the pleasure of writing is editing until a story feels ready. If it gets rejected I think about what more can be done.'

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