Creative Spotlight: Margaux Emmanuel on writing flash fiction

‘Writing is going to grow and evolve and you’re going to realise what works for you’


Margaux Emmanuel, a first year English student from Pembroke, has “been storytelling for a long time” – “talkative” as a child, she now loves reading and writing, specialising in writing short flash fiction stories, several of which she has successfully (and deservedly so) submitted to multiple publications. 

The Tab Cambridge spoke to Margaux more about her sources of inspiration, the influence of her personal life on her work, and where she hopes to take her writing in future. 

Photo credit: Author’s own screenshot from The Izu Fisherman via Notes

‘I like my writing to be permeated by everything that I’ve lived’

Throughout her life, Margaux has lived in many places, including France, Denmark, Japan, and the US, and she says that because of this, she doesn’t feel she has a “strong sense of national identity”, which she says really influences her writing: “I like my writing to be permeated by everything that I’ve lived.” 

She speaks particularly about Japan, where she “read a lot of Japanese authors” and their techniques have really interested her: “There’s a different way of expressing oneself, and a different way of creating images.”

Margaux told us about specific writers whose style interests her, like Japanese author, Yukio Mishima: “He has a way of depicting very heightened emotionality that I really adore – the way he juxtaposes raw images with purely poetic moments.”

She also loves Yosano Akiko, one of the first Japanese feminist writers: “She writes these Japanese poems called tanka and they’re very sensual – she’s considered the first Japanese female author to write blatantly feminist poetry – and she just has this way of putting images together in a very compelling way.” 

Margaux also points to a poster on her wall for the film In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar-wai: “He writes about love and about nostalgia and how they interact, and he has these very stunning visuals and this very expressive lighting, and has a way of showing particular moments in very, very stunning ways. I like that cinematic quality, and I like that in writing as well.” 

Photo credit: Margaux Emmanuel

‘That idea of just capturing something that’s ephemeral that you won’t be able to recreate’

In her own writing, Margaux is interested in “transient qualities” and “this idea of the fleeting moment”, which she believes may have arisen from her own passion for photography: “Having moved around a lot, a lot of my memories […] are linked to pictures. I really like taking pictures just with my phone anywhere I go, especially Polaroid pictures or disposable camera pictures, and the idea that you are capturing a bit of a moment that you will be able to retrieve later on.” 

She talks more of photography as “capturing something that’s ephemeral that you won’t be able to recreate,” comparing it to flash fiction – short stories that give “just a glimpse into a life,” with their shortness making them just as fleeting as photographs.

Photo credit: Author’s own screenshot from “uncontaminated” via Shards

‘I find it interesting to have this correlation between the natural world and yourself as an individual’

Margaux’s protagonists are often lonely, walking through huge natural landscapes, and we talked more about where this interest might have come from: “I don’t consider myself lonely at all because I’m very extroverted, I love always having people around me, but I think that often, moving around a lot, you are ripped away from people that you love very, very often, and so sometimes I feel like I’m forced to be back alone with my own thoughts. 

“Especially when I’m walking in the countryside, I think that that’s really when you’re reconnecting with nature and that’s where you start thinking really about yourself and your life and trying to make sense of who you are. And so I think in writing, I find it interesting to have this correlation between the natural world and yourself as an individual.”  

Margaux has written one particular story about a young, upcoming Japanese kickboxer, who dies before his time. She tells us more about her use of nature in that story: “It takes place in spring, and spring in Japan is one of the most beautiful moments of the year. 

“Everything begins in spring – so school begins in spring, and the year begins in April – because [that’s when] the sakura trees blossom, so there are cherry blossoms everywhere, and it only lasts a week. The Japanese find it very important and beautiful because it’s fleeting and I find that to be extremely interesting, because they centre so much around something that they know is not going to last for a very long time.

“So this idea in that story that I wrote, about this very young and promising boxer who just suddenly dies, and is a talent that isn’t wasted, but is fleeting, and how that’s mirrored in the landscape, I found that interesting.” 

Margaux talks more about loneliness in her writing: “I find it interesting this idea that you’re never as close as you’d like to be, or you cannot really access the individual bubble of other people, and that you always feel like you’re very, very far away from those right next to you and they seem unreachable.”

She elaborated on this feeling of isolation from those around you: “When you’re confronted with people, you never know what’s going on in their own interiority. It’s quite a strange concept to think that this feeling of existence that you have when you wake up and get on with your day, that everybody else has that too.” 

Photo credit: Margaux Emmanuel

‘Writing is going to grow and evolve and you’re going to realise what works for you’

Margaux believes the question of “maturity” is a key influence on her writing as a young adult: “Sometimes when I write, I have to admit there’s a limit to my experience – I’m 18, I haven’t lived that much and I don’t know that much about life, so there’s not much I can say […] I haven’t lived enough to really say anything very important.”

She elaborates on this: “As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that you start having a deeper understanding of things in general, and your writing resonates with that as well. I still sometimes feel very immature in my writing, which can be a good thing too sometimes.” 

When reading her old work, Margaux has noticed how her style has changed over time: “I construct my sentences differently because I’ve read more, because I think a lot of writing depends on what you’re bathed in culturally, so what you read and what you see. Writing is going to grow and evolve and you’re going to realise what works for you and what doesn’t.” 

Photo credit: Author’s own screenshot from Icarus via Under Review

‘It’s very difficult to know if your writing is good or not’

However, although she loves writing, Margaux explains how it’s not always easy. She’s learned a lot from the “competitive” nature of trying to get published: “You have to face many rejections sometimes, and you have to get used to that, but I think it’s also good in life to be able to get used to that, and just bounce back.” 

She says another challenge is “being objective” about your own writing: “It’s very difficult to know if your writing is good or not, and I think it’s impossible almost to know how you’re conveying what you feel, so I always ask friends, who are willing to read my stories, to be brutally honest with me, and I say, ‘you have to tell me, does this make sense?’” 

She expands on this further, saying that when you submit a piece of work, “you don’t really know how your work is being interpreted. […] You don’t know how the person is receiving it, as it’s just really subjective, so when you do get that publication, it’s really satisfying because you think, ‘oh, I’ve been understood.’”

Photo credit: Margaux Emmanuel

‘That’s what writing is for, right? It’s not just made for you’

Margaux told us how she’d like people to feel when they read her writing: “I’d like people to be able to relate to some of the emotions that are explained in general, because that’s what writing is for, right? It’s not just made for you – I think it’s just made to be able to resonate with people. […] I would like for people to be like, ‘oh, I’ve thought this before.”

Reflecting on why she loves to write, she continues: “It’s a way of expressing yourself, and I think many people have different ways of expressing themselves – some do dance, some do theatre, and I think that for me, writing is my favourite way of being creative and putting forward my thoughts.” 

It can also be a form of escapism too: “It’s a nice way to escape what’s going on. […] While you’re writing an essay or going through stressful times, if I have something else to concentrate on like writing a piece of flash fiction, it makes me think and I’m totally absorbed by it.” 

She thinks forward to the future – as well as looking into creative programmes for after university, in order to work towards her goal of writing a novel, Margaux is also considering potentially doing academic writing and research. Most of all, she is open-minded, and “excited for what is to come.”

You can read some of Margaux’s work here: 

Icarus 

Lady, goodnight

In Low Orbit

“uncontaminated”

If you’re a creative from the University of Cambridge and you would like to be featured in the Creative Spotlight column, please email The Tab Cambridge at [email protected]

Feature image credit: Margaux Emmanuel 

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