"He had lost count of the sunsets and sunrises." A Quick Q&A With #WriterPrompt Winner, Paul Behrens.

Perceptions of Time

It was all about perspective, although that word Alfie only came to know years later. It may have been perspective he understood, but it was frustration he felt and anger that he could barely control. Grown-Ups were the cause of his problems, why wouldn’t they listen or believe him? They kept telling him it was Tuesday, when it was on a Thursday that he’d left.

He had lost count of the sunsets and sunrises.

Even though he didn’t sleep the whole time he circumnavigated the earth in their craft, he knew that a few days had passed.

Then it dawned on him.

They had gone around the earth the opposite way and he had come back earlier – not later. Einstein would have whooped had he known that a young boy could comprehend relativity, albeit from the experience of a joyride with a bunch of aliens.

It all made sense to Alfie now.

His parents were also wrong about accepting rides from strangers, there was nothing dangerous or scary, despite them landing in the driveway and swallowing him whole, bicycle and all. They didn’t do things to him. He spent most of the time floating around, staring out of the window enjoying the view, of earth, the moon, the stars. No probes or strange food, just ice-cream and pizza.

Back home safe and sound he stood looking up at the night sky hoping to see their light.

Absentmindedly, Alfie scratched the back of his head where the hair like antennae protruded.

#WriterPrompt is a flash fiction event run on our Facebook page. Writers post stories, then workshop them with other participants and members of the SSDA team. The winner, Paul Behrens, talks about how a story comes to him and what the perfect playlist would be to accompany his story. 

Efemia Chela was #WriterPrompt 12's Guest Writer. She elaborates on why she chose "Perceptions of Time" as the winner. 


"I picked this as the winning story because I like the play of light and dark in this piece. It draws on childhood memories in such a fun way. It subverts the common human paranoia that aliens are out to hurt us and that makes for an unexpected plotline. Yet at the end we’re left uncertain about who or what the main character is, whether the adventures are real or not and that uneasiness made the piece stick with me. Ironically, Subterranean Homesick Alien by Radiohead came to me immediately.

“Perceptions of Time” flowed very naturally and Paul was quite clever with his word choices as you have to be in microfiction. In particular, I loved the layered meaning of the line, “Then it dawned on him.” The theme of youthful rebellion was a good way to approach the graffiti picture. Like the title of the story, it really is all about perceptions and perspectives and when you look at it from a couple of different angles this is a great little story."


Now, some thoughts from the winner himself, in conversation with Jason Mykl Snyman, one of the #WriterPrompt co-ordinators.

You’ve been participating in SSDA’s #WriterPrompt for a while now, and you’ve always managed to interpret the prompts in refreshing, interesting ways. You’ve also managed to produce multiple interpretations of a single prompt.  Where do you draw your inspirations and energy from?

PAUL: All my life I have been lucky that whenever I experience something, seeing a picture, hearing some music or being in a situation, the outline of a story comes to me quickly.

After that I make use of a number of sources for inspiration. Firstly, my life experiences, many of my settings are aspects of the places I have been. Secondly from all the media I love to adsorb: books, movies, TV series, music. Thirdly and most of all I draw inspiration from people, my observations of them and listening to their stories.

From all of this I allow the outline to stew in my head until the story is able to formulate itself to a point it can be written with some cohesion. Sometimes it fizzles out completely and other times it blossoms into something readable.


Many writers use music to set a mood, or simply for background noise while they work. Give us a five-song playlist to accompany your winning Writer Prompt piece, ‘Perceptions of Time.’


PAUL: David Bowie – Starman

Radiohead – Subterranean Homesick Alien

Coldplay – Yellow

Muse – Supermassive Blackhole

The Mars Volta – Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)


You’re not only a writer, but also an avid reader and supporter of short stories. What’s the best thing you’ve read this year? 

PAUL: It is probably very late in my life to do so, but I only discovered Ernest Hemingway this year and I was blown away by his work. When you first read his stories they flow very easily and seem quite simplistic, but quickly one realises how difficult it is to write like that. He truly was a genius.


While loving writing from school days, inspired by his English teachers, Paul never formally studied languages, rather choosing Engineering and later in life became a business management consultant within the IT world. Hence all his writing has been a part-time passion.

Paul has always been drawn toward the short story genre and finds the art of telling a story with as few words as possible while painting the whole picture a challenge he enjoys. Living in Johannesburg, Paul writes for pleasure and shares his stories on his blog https://paulabehrens.wordpress.com/


Interview by Jason Mykl Snyman