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Interview: Cybella Maffit, NFFD 2019 Youth 2nd and 3rd

We are pleased to talk with Cybella Maffitt, whose stories won second and third place in the 2019 youth competition – and whose third submission also placed in the competition.

Flash Frontier: When did you first start writing – and what was the first piece you set down on paper?

Cybella Maffitt: Pretty much as soon as I learned to read I was writing. There really wasn’t anything structured about it, it was all very experimental. I’d write stories about my day, or about my favorite animals. Anything I loved about the world around me. Those first stories were always written in giant, messy crayon, and usually with terrible grammar. In that sense, I hope I’ve improved, but that same initial experimental approach towards writing is what still drives me to write.

FF: What about very short fiction – is it something you’ve always been interested in, or is new form for you?

CM: It’s fairly new to me. I do have trouble committing to long pieces of fiction, so what I’ve usually done instead is poetry. It was really exciting to get to play around with a new form of writing, and hopefully flash fiction is something I’ll continue to explore.

FF: What do you find so compelling about writing very short stories?

CM: In short stories, everything has to be so condensed and intentional. Not only what you write, but also the parts you leave unsaid become important. I love exploring that balance between the two; trying to keep enough detail that the narrative is well-explained and convincing, but also leaving enough out that the reader is able to interpret and continue the story long after they’ve finished reading. That sort of experimentation is so new and exciting to me.

FF: You saw all three of your submissions place in this year’s competition. Can you tell us about your writing process.

CM: Oh dear. My writing process is probably not a great one to follow. I find that I always work best when I have an impending deadline. If I don’t, I get too distracted. For NFFD, I’d been thinking about ideas for the stories for a while, just toying with various themes and how they might be written. Then, I gave myself the day before the deadline to just focus and begin writing. For two of my pieces (‘Five Rules’ and ‘Funeral hymn’), I wrote it all out, letting it naturally evolve and take on its own form before going back through and editing. Working without set expectations really lets the pieces surprise you. It may not be the most structured approach, but it’s very freeing. My third piece was actually an older story that I submitted, and for that I took a more traditional, structured approach.

FF: What are the themes you like to explore in your writing – be it poetry, storytelling or nonfiction?

CM: Anything and everything. I generally just write about whatever is occupying my head at the moment. Sometimes it’s quite trivial – I once wrote a whole ode to chocolate chip cookies. More often than not, though, it’s a way to unpack and understand the things I’m puzzling over. Recently, that’s been issues like women’s roles, heritage, and the like. Otherwise, it’s a way to explore things that don’t concern me at all. Writing allows you to either explore your own voice or invent an entirely different one. It’s really quite special.

FF: What do you like to read – and do you think what you read influences what you write?

CM: I read a lot of poetry. Generally, a lot of feminist poetry. I do think that it’s impacted my writing. Both the experimental nature of a lot of it, and the subject matter, are things that I draw a lot of inspiration from. In my opinion, any great writer has begun as a great reader.

FF: What are you working on next? Are you continuing to write this year, in school or extra-curricularly? What other projects keep you busy (again, in school or outside of school)?

CM: I’m working on a lot of things! School (and now university applications!) constantly keeps me busy. I’m an IB student, which is a giant time commitment. Beyond schoolwork I lead my school’s student newspaper, called Margin. One great thing about writing is getting to connect with other students through it, and being introduced to alternate perspectives. I try to fit in my own writing where I can, usually on the ferry ride home.

I’m also involved in projects like Shakespeare Soiree, Vietnamese Dance Group, and debating – which keeps me constantly busy. Between schoolwork and all of those extra-curriculars, it does get hard to commit to any long-term writing projects. However, as my IB CAS project, I am writing a short children’s book to fundraise to build a library, which I’m hoping I can get finished before the end of term.

FF: And finally – a question we’ll ask all short-listed writers from the youth competition: If you could imagine a colour that best describes your 2019 NFFD story(stories), what would it be, and why?

CM: For ‘Funeral hymn’, a murky grey. It’s quite a confused story, and in places a desperate one. That sort of clouded vibe is very fitting.

For ‘Five rules’, a light blue. It has a much lighter narrative, and though a bit sad, I view it as ultimately hopeful.

‘Il faut’ would be a bubblegum pink, for obvious reasons.

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