Saturday 14 January 2012

What's the Story?

I just sent off an entry for a short story competition. It was a crime story and had to have the theme of "Ten" and the prize is a weekend at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in July, which I'd love to go to but can't afford. Much as I love my husband, he's not remotely interested in writing or reading and therefore it wouldn't be a weekend break for both of us but would just be me spending money on me - something I'm usually pretty good at!

I don't find writing short stories at all easy: getting a whole story across in a few thousand words is a true art form and not something I think I've yet mastered. I'm a bit of a traditionalist and think that a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, and I'm not much of a fan of the stories that just show you a slice of life with no real point to it. Having said that, I've edited a good number of anthologies for the British Fantasy Society over the years, and quite a few of the stories went on to win awards and be included in further "Best of" anthologies. I've also been a first round judge in the BFS short story competition on several occasions and am still involved in an online anthology.

My first short story sale was a crime story, which won a competition in the women's magazine Bella and was published way back in the mid 1990s. From then on I've written mostly fantasy, with the occasional nod towards sf and horror. I even had the opportunity to adapt a television script into a story for an anthology which was an education in itself - I pitched for a chance to be included, got it and then realised I had to deliver the goods! At 12,500 words, it was practically a novella but at least the bones of the story were actually there for me to work with.

Having the bones of the idea is always the problem for me. For this recent crime competition, I had the theme "Ten" and a vague idea of how I wanted to interpret the theme but that was it. For me a potential story is a hard shiny ball and I have to find the way in, mull it over for days, weeks - sometimes even months - until suddenly I'll find a chink in the armoured casing. A few paragraphs, deleted, rewritten and coated in a bit of literary semtex and if I'm lucky I can blow the chink wider and suddenly I'm inside the story and I'm off. From that point it's an easy run and I can have it written in a few days. Another couple of days for editing, then leave it to mature for a week or so, maybe pass it around a few friends for comment, edit again and it's done. In this case, I found a short scene I'd written a few months ago for no particular purpose - it was just a mum in a car on a school run and went nowhere. Suddenly I could fit the competition theme around it and see the direction it was going in. And I had it written within 24 hours (it was over the Christmas break).

You can see a list of my  short stories and where you can find them  on my Short Fiction page. It'd be nice to win the competition and actually get to Harrogate, but I won't be holding my breath!

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