Interview with Deborah Ritchie 2022 Spring Flash Fiction Runner-Up

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Deborah’s Bio:

Deborah Ritchie is the co-author of Judas Kisses: A True Story of Betrayal and Survival, the best-selling memoir of burns survivor, Donna Carson, first published by Hardie Grant Books in 2007. Deborah also writes short fiction and poetry; her work has been published in various magazines and journals. Deborah holds an MA in Creative Writing from Macquarie University and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Wollongong. She lives in Australia, in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. Follow her on Facebook: 

If you haven’t read “The Peacekeeper,” please take the time to do so and then pop back here for Deborah’s interview. 

 -----interview with Sue Bradford Edwards----- 

WOW: There is so much turmoil in “Peacekeeper.” What was your inspiration for this story? 

Deborah: My inspiration for “Peacekeeper” was the death of my mother. Like the peacekeeper in my story, she was a woman who found it difficult to be assertive, largely because of her upbringing, the society in which she grew up and the domineering men she chose as partners. Unable to fill her own space in life, her main power lay in a quiet stubbornness. She held a lot of unexpressed anger. Mum died alone in dreadful circumstances. People who know the full, complex story tell me there’s nothing I could have done. But I will feel guilty for the rest of my life. She was a beautiful human being. 

WOW: How sad! But how brave of you to write about it and discuss it. How did this story evolve from start to finish? 

Deborah: “Peacekeeper” was originally written as part of an assignment for my MA. It was the first micro-story in a set of four linked stories which all take place on a particular Valentine’s Day. Each story is from a different point of view. In the final piece, daughter Diana saves her mother. Make of that what you will! Unlike most of my creative writing, “Peacekeeper” evolved easily. I think I’d carried the image of Mum’s dying in my head for so long, a solid first draft rolled out quickly on the page. I’d often wondered what her final thoughts had been. I’d heard years ago that when someone is passing, their life flashes before them in reverse. This gave me the overarching structure. 

WOW: This piece is so full of vivid imagery. It makes sense that a vivid image was part of its beginning. Despite the brief word count available in flash fiction, there is so much detail in this piece. How did you decide which details to include and which to leave out? 

Deborah: Mum had been born into wealth but ended up in squalor, and it seemed her lifelong script of ‘peace at any price’ had been largely to blame. This theme provided the breadcrumb trail for the story and also the title. (I think this is an example of an imposed limitation being of great help.) I imagined a series of key relationships and a series of key incidents connected to the theme. Although the scaffolding for “Peacemaker” is based on a real incident, many of the details are products of my imagination. This is where the writer must take over in order to stretch and fictionalise the work. Trying to stick to the truth is often a cage. As usual, walking, swimming and daydreaming freed my mind. Possible details arose unbidden. Which to choose? A writer just knows, I think. 

WOW: In addition to short fiction, you also write poetry. How does your poetry influence your other writing? 

Deborah: Poetic techniques are wonderful tools for my prose writing. For example, fresh metaphors and similes allow a reader to see the familiar in a new way. But poetry also trains the ear to the musicality of language. Words can chime together through alliteration, assonance and rhyme. Sentences can be serpentine or jumpy or lush or spare, depending on the choice and arrangement of the words within. 

WOW: What advice do you have for our readers who may never have tried writing flash? 

Deborah: Read plenty of quality flash fiction. The WOW! Women on Writing website is a great place to start. 

Write about one thing that lends itself to being compressed. 

Burn out a first draft without censoring yourself, then remove any unnecessary words. You’ll be surprised how many words are dispensable. 

Use strong verbs rather than adjectives and adverbs. 

Read and reread each draft aloud. Edit awkward-sounding prose. 

It’s common advice but worth repeating: Write from your scars, not your wounds. Well…most of the time anyway! 

WOW: Thank you for trusting us enough to share the truth behind this story. I know I speak for our community when I say that I would love to read the four stories together!


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