Interview with James Montgomery
You'll notice that throughout this interview James shines a light on lots of other writers instead of merely showcasing his own work. This demonstrates how compassionate and warm-hearted James is as a person and a writer. He's also modest. He maybe a fledgling writer in terms of time, but a glance at his publications to date cement his talent.
I first encountered James when I stumbled upon his story "Waste Management" in Truffle Magazine. A couple battling grief and loss find solace by sitting in their rubbish bins. Straight away, I was enamored with James' use of oddball imagery, how it made me drop my guard only to pull me into the emotional heart of the story. This is true too of the way James plays with structure and form. A clever cultivation of lists, numbering and/or subheadings gives a sense of urgency and honesty to James' writing. Each deviation from the expected adds another layer of depth and meaning.
Meet the author:
James Montgomery lives in Stafford, England. He writes flash and micro fiction. His stories appear or are forthcoming in Truffle Magazine, Retreat West, FlashFlood Journal, The Hungry Ghost, Ellipsis Zine, Janus Literary, and Gone Lawn. He's a Best of the Net nominee, and last year won the Best Micro Fiction Prize at the 2021 Retreat West Awards.
Outside of writing flash, James works full-time for a leading and award-winning B2B marketing consultancy, directing energy, manufacturing and security brands on their content marketing strategies. He has a CIM Diploma in Professional Marketing from the Oxford College of Marketing, an MA degree in Journalism from Staffordshire University, and a First Class BA degree in English Literature from Lancaster University.
Otherwise, he spends his spare time on the never-ending renovation of his 1920s semi-detached home, purchasing new vinyl for his beloved record player, or planning the next getaway (currently Berlin). Oh, and reading. Lots and lots of reading.
James' picks were: 2-16-17-20-21-22-34-37-38-41-46
Honestly, how many times a day do you check Submittable/refresh your email?
JM: Not very often! I’m not a serial submitter. But if a title has been quite specific about when you can expect to hear a response, then this can make me a little more alert. I’ve learned, though, that as soon as you press ‘Submit’, it’s out of your control. Best to try and put it to one side, if possible.
What was your favourite cartoon to watch growing up?
JM: It’s not a cartoon, but I used to love the kids’ TV show ZZZap! I was a big fan of comics growing up – one of my grandparents used to pick me up on a Wednesday morning to take me to school and, on the way, he’d buy a copy of the Daily Mail (boo!) for himself and that week’s Beano (wahey!) for me. There was something about the idea of one coming to life that really captured my imagination.
What keeps you writing?
JM: Genuinely, the desire to get better. I now look back at some of my earlier publications, and there’s likely some phrasing or narrative decisions or whatever that I would want to change now. But, to me, that just means I’m learning and – hopefully – improving. Also, the buzz that you get when someone connects with a story and responds to it is so rewarding. If a flash resonates with a reader, then that’s something special.
What TV show have you just binge watched?
JM: Schitt’s Creek. I was late to the party with this one, but it’s a masterclass in every respect. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a show with so much heart. There are moments in the show – Stevie’s Cabaret breakthrough performance, Patrick and Rose Apothecary’s first receipt – that bring a lump to my throat just thinking about them. And it’s so funny! Like, shriek out loud funny. Plus, from a writing perspective, there’s so much to admire; the narrative arc of Alexis; the delivery and timing of Moira’s lines; the vulnerability that’s revealed over time with David. I adore it – I’ll be re-watching it soon.
Also, A Little Bit Alexis is my anthem.
Are you part of a writer’s circle?
JM: I’m lucky enough to be part of two. Both came about after having taken one of Ken Elkes’ flash fiction courses, which is a testament to how wonderful those that take Ken’s courses are.
On the first, back in mid-2020, I’d barely even tried my hand at flash before starting the course – which seems foolish, in hindsight – but I’d fallen in love with the form some months before and was desperate to learn. Halfway through, I threw out the question of whether anyone was part of a writing group, as I so wanted that sense of community and collaboration to continue. Katie Oliver – whose debut short story collection, I Wanted to be Close to You, will be published by Fly on the Wall Press at the end of the year – kindly said that the group she was a part of, Betas & Bludgers, might be an option. Many excellent writers from this group – including Alexis Wolfe, Matt Kendrick, Michelle Christophorou, Laura Besley, Abi Hennig, Ruth Brandt, Sherry Morris, Cath Barton, and, of course, Katie – have fed back on my writing, which has been invaluable to improving it, as well as providing the opportunity to feedback on their stories, which you quickly learn is an essential skill for improving your editing eye.
One year on, in mid-2021, I was back for more with another course from Ken, with another collection of brilliant writers. Once this course had finished, Anika Carpenter – who has started a new series of ‘1 Flash Month’ workshops – invited me to join Flash Corral, which meets online every fortnight. There’s prompts and generative writing exercises, and then the chance to submit work and gain feedback. We each take it in turn to host. The writers that are part of the group – Ali McGrane, Sara Hills, Suzanne Greene, Sage Tyrtle, Rosaleen Lynch, Emily Devane, Neil Clark, and El Rhodes – are so talented and encouraging. I’m very lucky!
And, while not a writer’s circle as such, I find Twitter such a fantastic platform for the flash community. I’ve made loads of flashy friends there, such as Lucy Hooft, who I regularly swap work with now, and started talking to because of our shared love of Retreat West’s monthly micro competition. Everyone’s so generous.
And if you’re new to writing flash and reading this, and don’t have someone to share a story with for feedback, I’m here! *waves*
Do you own any pets and what are they called?
JM: My boyfriend and I are owned by two cats, Artemis and Barnabas, who are my constant companions when I’m writing. Barnabas will quietly curl up somewhere near me while I’m typing away; Artemis will become irritated when I’ve not given her enough fuss for a bit, mewing for attention, providing me with a good excuse for a break. They’re very lovely and make me very happy.
Which genre or style of writing are you most comfortable writing?
JM: Micros, which has really surprised me since I’ve started writing. But there’s something about a limited word count – and making every word count – that feels manageable, even when you’re short on time. Let’s face it, we’re all busy with jobs, family, friends, and other commitments, but I can always find time to lock myself away, emerging – hopefully – with a perfectly formed micro.
Describe your writing and redrafting process?
JM: Slow. Long. Slow. I still think of myself as very much a beginner. There’s so much to consider and refine and sharpen. Before I started paying more attention to my writing, I had no idea the influence that rhythm, for instance, can have on a piece. One aspect I’ve tried to focus on more recently is voice. And then structure’s a big one for me, particularly for flash, because the form lends itself so well to experimentation. I always try and ask myself whether the way I’m telling a story can be reflected in how a story is physically shaped. Would this flash be better as an all-dialogue piece? A hermit crab? A single paragraph? A single sentence in a single paragraph? Does it need numbered sections? Why? It’s an aspect of writing flash that I never expected to become so enamoured with, but I really enjoy it.
I also consider feedback from other writers to be a critical part of the redrafting process. At this point, I would never consider submitting a story without having someone I trust feeding back first – but that’s just me! I recently shared a story with some writers I trust, and their comments made me realise the story in its current state meant I wasn’t telling the story I really wanted to tell. While I think I would have figured it out eventually, having others that have distance from a story to advise and guide it is so helpful.
I also think there’s real joy to be found in the editing process. Publication shouldn’t be the sole goal, in my opinion. A lot of the time, it’s just you and the words, and I’ve learned it’s important to get comfortable with that.
What are you currently reading?
JM: Before flash, I would – quite strictly – only read one thing at a time. Now, I tend to have several things on the go at once. So, I’m currently reading They by Kay Dick, a dystopian tale of art under attack, Sharon Telfer’s flash collection, The Map Waits, and Lucie McKnight Hardy’s novel, Water Shall Refuse Them.
What is the album you could listen to on repeat?
JM: There are many! But I’ll go for St Vincent’s Strange Mercy. Every year, Spotify tells me she’s my most played artist. And that album is my gun-to-the-head-favourite.
Where is your ultimate getaway?
JM: This is a difficult question, because I love travelling. In recent years, I’ve had special holidays touring through Alberta and British Columbia in Canada, city breaks to Budapest and Stockholm, and travelled down the west coast of the US, but I think I’d have to choose Florence in Italy. My partner and I went back in 2015, and stopped at several places – Venice, Verona, Rome, Sorrento – when visiting, but Florence really stole my heart, mind, and soul. The art, the culture, the scenery, the food, the wine, the everything. It has it all.
What’s your favourite piece you’ve had published, to date, and why?
JM: Maybe ‘Seed, Root, Shoot’, which was published by Janus Literary. I’m quite proud of how that one hangs together, in terms of its theme, structure, rhythm, and so on, even though it’s only 100 words.
My actual favourite piece is yet to be published, however. I wrote it last summer and haven’t submitted it anywhere yet. It may sound strange, but I’ve just wanted to keep it to myself for a while. I love it. But I’m currently editing it, so hoping to send it out into the world soon.
What is a surprising fact not many people know about you?
JM: When I was in my mid-20s, I quit my job, ended the lease on my flat, and went to South Africa for several months to volunteer on a wilderness reserve. It was both terrifying and liberating. It remains one of the best experiences of my life. It also provided me with a new-found respect for the hyena, which a certain global entertainment and media conglomerate has really done dirty over the years. They’re so intelligent, characterful, and inquisitive. Seeing them up close in the wild as part of a conservation programme is something I will never forget.
Tell me a joke
JM: What do you call an exploding monkey? A BA-BOOM.
I feel that I know James better now and I hope you do too. Maybe he has inspired you to join that writers group you've been nervous about. Have his snaps of South Africa got you clamouring to travel? Or perhaps you are going to be bolder with form from now on.