Now that the 2016 Short Story Award is underway, we thought it would be good to hear from Safia Moore, our BSSA 2015 first prize winner. She’s had more successes since her win in our contest back in July and has some great advice for prospective entrants to this year’s competition. You can read Safia’s winning story ‘That Summer’ in our BSSA 2015 anthology which officially launches in Bath on 19th November. Available from Mr B’s Emporium of Books in Bath or via Amazon
Safia Moore is a writer, editor, and creative writing tutor from Northern Ireland. Her work has been published in various journals including The Incubator, Haverthorn Magazine, Severine, and The Honest Ulsterman. In 2015 Safia won the Bath Short Story Award, came second in the Allingham Arts Flash Fiction competition and was twice shortlisted for Flash500.
- On your blog, you posted a great account of the history of your winning story,’That Summer’. Can you give us a summary of it again here? I am sure prospective entrants would be interested in how the story came to us.
The essence of my ‘history of a winning story’ blog was that no one should believe there is some kind of magic recipe or even genius involved in writing a great short story, one that could win, be placed, or shortlisted in a major competition like the Bath Short Story Award. Accepting this and realising that all stories, if they are intended for submission to journals or competitions, must be scrupulously edited, re-read, worked on again and again, is of paramount importance. Likewise, if you believe in the merit of your story, you shouldn’t give up. My winning story, ‘That Summer’, had been submitted to two other competitions and had not been successful, so when it came back to me on those two occasions, I re-edited it, worked particularly closely on my choice of vocabulary, and generally made it leaner and meaner. I felt the voice and the overall structure of the story were sound, so it was a case of honing in on the details, the images, and cutting whatever was superfluous, especially in the dialogue. But if you read the full blog, you’ll discover that a little bit of luck in the form of a slow-moving post office queue, also played a part in how ‘That Summer’ came into the hands of BSSA
- You recently won second prize for a flash fiction in the Allingham Arts Flash Fiction Prize. Can you tell us how this piece came into being and whether we can read it online?
‘Viennese Whirls and Pineapple Creams’ is based on a few scant details my mother gave me about my maternal grandmother, Maggie Wright, a woman who raised a tribe of children (not all her own), married several times and was widowed for the last time when my mother, her youngest child, was about twelve. I was pleased that the Allingham judge picked up on the social/historical vibes of the piece as they were important to me, but when I initially sat down to write it, I had no idea exactly how I was going to incorporate those elements. As usual, it sorted itself out in the edits and revisions, of which there were many. You can read it on my blog via the link in the title above.
- Do you write short fiction with a finished length in mind? Or does it just emerge as flash or a longer story?
I definitely sort my ideas into ‘Flash’ or ‘Short Story’ at a very early stage and I can’t think of any that have crossed over during the writing. I think that’s obviously got to do with the scope and depth of the idea, flash fiction being more like a trailer to the short story’s full feature. I wouldn’t write a flash piece or a short story with a particular word count in mind however, although I have occasionally cut a longer piece down in order to satisfy the word limit of a competition or journal. Stretching to fit is something I’d never do to a story.
- Which short story writers do you return to for inspiration?
I’m tempted to say, none as I think returning to the same writers for inspiration can be quite inhibiting. I’d say it’s much better to spread your net far and wide when it comes to reading material and to keep one eye on what and who is new. Likewise, I feel that if you need to consciously seek out inspiration as a writer, you’re in trouble. Having said that, if I had to name short story writers I would automatically return to for reading pleasure and enjoyment of the craft well-executed, my top three would be Lorrie Moore, Carol Shields, and James Joyce. I rarely read a novel or a short story more than once, because there’s always something waiting in the TBR pile, but Dubliners is a collection I have returned to time and time again as a reader and a teacher. Which brings me on to anthologies. What better way to be inspired than reading a wide range of styles, ideas and techniques such as those found in the BSSA 2015 Anthology?
- What are your current writing ambitions?
Currently I’m working on two projects and my ambition is to have them both completed by Spring 2016 at the latest. The first is a collection of short stories thematically linked by their Northern Irish setting (as per ‘That Summer’). I’ve planned 3 new stories which will bring it up to around the 40,000 word mark. At the same time, I’m working on what was my first completed novel and re-forming it into a series of free-standing but integrated episodes along the lines of ‘Olive Kitteridge’ by Elizabeth Strout or ‘Starlings’ by Erinna Mettler. This novel is set in Abu Dhabi and Dubai so has a much more diverse flavour than the short story collection. There’s a second novel which is about one-third of the way in, but it’ll have to wait. Finding an agent who loves my work is another ambition, but that’s for after I’m satisfied I can make no further improvements to my short story collection and novel.
- Can you give us your top tips for writing competition short stories?
My top tips: get the voice right, plan the structure, begin in the middle of the story, keep writing until you get to the end of the first draft, then start working. There is no such thing as too much editing – you must be prepared to constantly read your own work, re-read it, make changes every time, cut anything that adds nothing to the storyline or characterisation, tighten up dialogue and enhance your descriptions with details that sound fresh, not clichéd. And finally, if you’re thinking about entering Bath 2016, start now. All the above takes time.
Interview with Jude, November 2015.