Interview with Piyumi Kapugeekiyana: Summer 2023 Flash Fiction Contest Runner-Up

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Piyumi's Bio: 

Piyumi is a fledgling writer of fiction who is finally rediscovering her love of stories. A researcher by profession, she has a PhD in International Relations from the University of Nottingham and until recently, had relegated herself to writing only non-fiction. Piyumi was a finalist in the 2018 Bracken Bower Prize, an award given to the best business book proposal of the year by a young writer. In 2023, she was shortlisted for the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize and had her story published in the anthology Flashy Gifts, released in partnership with the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries exhibition Gifts and Books.

She can be found on Twitter @Piyumi_K

If you haven't read her story, "Periodically," yet then click through here and come back to learn from Piyumi.

WOW: Every writer finds inspiration in a different place. What was your inspiration for “Periodically?”

Piyumi: A friend of mine works for a company that produces period underwear and in some ways, this story flowed from seeing an ad for their product. The ad was very matter-of-fact and focused on practical design considerations that make the product well-suited to the contours of the female form in everyday motions like sitting and walking. I found it a refreshing departure from the usual ads for sanitary products, which tend to feature women on their periods somersaulting in white jeans in a bid to convince us of superior absorbency! It got me thinking about the ways in which women are marketed to, the unrealistic standards of beauty we contend with, the pressure to contrive one’s appearance in line with cultural and social norms, and the lifelong journey to becoming comfortable in one’s body. Even the title “Periodically” is a nod to the inspiration behind the story, and also the fact that it takes time to shed the clutter of outside voices and grow in self-acceptance. 

WOW: That is definitely something your fellow women writers will understand. In flash, every detail is important. How did you decide what details to include in this story? Can you reveal a few of the details that you discarded? 

Piyumi: I wanted the story to feel as universal as possible, and that influenced my choice of details. “Periodically” was written from the perspective of a brown-skinned woman and contains elements of my own personal experiences. In initial iterations of the flash, I’d worked in certain coming-of-age practices exclusive to my culture. When editing, I felt these details detracted from the broader relatability of the story, which led me to discard them. 

I’ve also been trying to use synecdoche in my writing, which is something I learned from a Joyce Carol Oates masterclass on short stories. For instance, initial versions of “Periodically” had the character recount two different experiences of sexual harassment to explain the discomfort she felt with her body when growing up. But that multiplicity isn’t ideal in flash, which requires economy. In the end, I pared it back to one example; one part that hinted at the whole. 

WOW: I'll admit it.  I quickly looked up synecdoche, which is a metaphor in which a part of something represents the whole. We do this all the time when we refer to a car as "wheels" or a ask a fellow writer for help because we need another "set of eyes" on a project. You are also a researcher and nonfiction writer. How do these talents feed into your fiction writing? 

Piyumi: Being a researcher definitely makes me approach fiction writing with a somewhat scholarly bent! I find myself doing research upfront and throughout the writing process. It helps me get my facts straight and sometimes yields a new thread to unravel during the writing process. My approach as a nonfiction writer is usually something I have to resist somewhat when creating fiction. So far, I’ve mostly written business or topical nonfiction which tends to be about communicating information and presenting a viewpoint or a coherent argument. It doesn’t necessarily require strong use of imagination, imagery, or seek to evoke emotions. With fiction writing, I’ve had to cultivate all those missing aspects, especially the use of descriptive details which doesn’t always come intuitively to me (the whole ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra). 

WOW: What advice do you have for any of our readers who are new to flash? Who aren’t sure where to begin? 

Piyumi: I’d say just go for it! Write about whatever piques your interest. Start with vignettes, if that strengthens your descriptive skills or makes it easier to write your way to a new character or a compelling theme. And most important, take the pressure off - no one else needs to read your work until you’re ready. A flash has all the elements of a complete narrative but at anywhere from 250-1500 words, it is a relatively undemanding format in terms of time and effort required. Unlike short stories or longer form works, it’s not the sort of thing you need to spend weeks on, and yet, provides every opportunity to experiment with styles, voices, characters, and plots - all the elements needed for your craft as a storyteller. 

WOW: That's good advice. What are you working on now? 

Piyumi: These days, I’m polishing a writing sample for a scholarship program that supports underrepresented writers. I’m also editing a humorous crime short story involving two social media influencers. In the new year, I’m hoping to start work on a collection of women-focused short stories. Let’s see how it all goes!

WOW: Good luck with that!  You'll have to keep us posted.  And thank you for taking the time to talk with our readers.


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