Monthly Archives: January 2018

Interview with Kathy Stevens — BSSA 2017 1st Prize Winner

We’ve more inspiration for would-be entrants to BSSA 2018 in Jude’s interview here with our first prize winner from the 2017 Award, Kathy Stevens, who was also commended in BSSA 2016 with her story, ‘A Marriage of Convenience’. Kathy is currently writing a series of linked short-stories and we hope the recent announcement from The Bookseller, that there is a boom in short-story collection sales, will mean that we get to read a published collection of her work soon. Judge Euan Thorneycroft from A M Heath. who is also this year’s judge, said of Kathy’s story:

I loved this story from the word go. Both funny and heart-breaking. We are immediately grabbed by the unique voice of Elsie, a teenager with unspecified personal problems (although this point is never laboured), and who reveals her acerbic family dynamics through frank observations.”

Please also take note of Kathy’s writing tip about biting the bullet and submitting your work. It certainly worked for her.

Interview

Jude: Can you tell us how your wonderful first prize winning Story  ‘This is All Mostly True’ came into being? 

Kathy at the our 2017 launch in November at Mr B’s Emporium of Books, Bath

Kathy: One of my tutors at UEA had spoken about how giving young characters a ‘fixation’ – music, sport, anything  — can help to bring them to life. I’ve never been very good at plots. I prefer to let character control story, which works well in the shorter fiction forms but explains why I’ve never finished a novel. I started with the zombie film idea, and Elsie grew from that. It seemed natural for Elsie to have inherited the zombie film interest from someone else, and it made sense to use the movies to bridge the gap between her and her father. Elsie’s mother has her own ways to relax; she has friends and a social life and enjoys alcohol. Of course, none of this really involves her daughter.

People’s fixations can often be a way to anchor themselves. Obsessing about something apparently trivial can help to quieten a world which doesn’t make sense

Jude: You have recently completed an MA in Creative Writing  at the prestigious University of East Anglia, as the inaugural recipient of a Kowitz scholarship. Can you tell us what is was like studying creative writing there?

Kathy: It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’d strongly recommend studying Creative Writing, and UEA. The course was only a few months long, but I’ve met some friends for life there, and become a far better writer than I was when I started.

Kathy reading an extract from her story, ‘This is All Mostly True’ at our November 2017 anthology launch

It’s quite bizarre, going from a soul-destroying minimum-wage job, to a classroom full of adults who write their own fiction and take yours seriously. The tutors were all brilliant and all very different. The students came from every continent, age group, and possible walk of life. I’m certainly less ignorant for having attended UEA, and abolishing your ignorance is an important part of becoming a better writer.

To be awarded a full scholarship was life-altering. I’m extremely grateful to Sarah and David Kowitz for selecting my application.

 

Jude:.In your bio on our winners’ post  you said you are currently working on a literary novel about a dysfunctional family. We’d love to hear more about it and if it’s nearing completion.

Kathy: Nearing completion? I wish! I’m horrendous at finishing anything longer than 5,000 words. The ‘novel’ has been shelved for now. I’m trying to get a linked collection together at the moment. Working in retail over Christmas hasn’t left much time for writing, but I’m scribbling away a couple of days a week. I hope to make serious headway with the collection in the new year.

Jude: Your beautifully written and memorable  story ‘A Marriage  of Convenience’ was commended in our 2016 Award and is published in our 2016 anthology.  Are you putting a collection of short stories together?

I’ve heard that collections are far more appealing to agents and publishers when they’re linked. I’m not putting any of my old material into the collection. I’m starting again from scratch

Jude: We also know from your bio that you are a keen guitarist. Do you write songs as well?

Kathy: I don’t write songs, no. I wasn’t blessed with that skill. I played classical guitar from the age of six. These days I’ll pick up somebody’s guitar at a party and play half of ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’, before I forget the words and give it to somebody more talented.

Jude: Who are your favourite short story writers and why do you like them?

Kathy: Roald Dahl’s adult writing is wonderful. He gets straight to the point and doesn’t waste any words on long-winded description. The profundity of his work can be found in what he leaves out. I also like Hemingway, for similar reasons. I recently read Annie Proulx’s ‘Brokeback Mountain’ on a friend’s suggestion, having never seen the film, and was profoundly moved.

I read a lot of collections, The Best British Short Stories series is a favourite, which comes out every year and is edited by Nicholas Royle, creative writing professor at Manchester and judge of the Manchester Short Story Prize. I also really enjoy Philip Langeskov’s short fiction. Joe Dunthorne’s novel Submarine was one of the most entertaining books I’ve read for years. My coursemates were a very talented bunch. I expect great things (short story wise) from John Steciuk, Cara Marks, Senica Maltese and Tithi Mukherjee in particular. Kelleigh GreenbergJephcott’s first novel, Swan Song, is coming out later this year, and it’s going to be brilliant.

Jude:Finally, your top tip for anyone wanting to enter our short story competition?

Get a calendar, fill it with deadlines, keep to it. Write, write, write. Read a lot. Enjoy it, but be focused. You’ll be rejected and for a while, and you’ll feel you’re getting nowhere. But if you stick to it and keep becoming a better writer, there’s no reason at all why you can’t get there. I wrote and sent work out for almost 2 years before anything was published at all. After than, it became a steady trickle of acceptance. There’s a lot of talent in the Bath Short Story Award anthology, and all the writers have something in common – they bit the bullet, they finished the work and they sent it out into the world. Good luck

Interview with Sarah Mackey, BSSA 2017, third prize winner

Sarah reading at the BSSA 2017 anthology launch in November 2017

 

For those of you who have made New Year’s resolutions to write short stories for competitions or for other reasons, we decided it was fitting to start the New Year with this interview with our third prize winner from BSSA 2017, Sarah Mackey, who began her story, Forget Me Not, which  judge Euan Thorneycroft described as ‘A beautiful, sad study of a family buckling under the weight of memory loss,’ a year ago, in January 2017. It’s inspiring to know what can be achieved in just a few months. You can read it in in our 2017 anthology, available on this website and from Amazon. 

Interview

Jude: Can you tell us how your third prize-winning story, Forget Me Not came into being?

Sarah:I started writing Forget Me Not in January 2017 as a piece for National Memory Day. Initially I had just wanted a prompt and a deadline to get me writing after a prolonged Christmas break but I was instantly drawn to Virginia and her garden and what began as an exercise soon became a ‘proper’ story. It didnt fit the word limit for NMD so I put the first draft aside for a couple of months before revising it.

Sarah with her sister and Jude at the BSSA launch at Mr B’s Bookshop, Bath

We’ve all known people who can get confused or unfocused on day-to-day matters but who are razor sharp when talking about their passions and areas of expertise – the things that underpin their identity. Forget Me Not picks up Virginia’s story at the point where age and illness first start to attack that core part of her life. I wanted to show the impact that this had on Virginia and the people around her and how both fear and love drive us to try and mend things that are ultimately outside our control.

I stole slivers of story from various sources – the plants from my mother’s garden, the names of friends – but the majority of it just came from the characters of Henry and Virginia. Someone has since told me that some undertakers send Myosotis seeds to bereaved partners after a funeral, which seems very fitting.

Jude:In your bio, you said that this is the first story you have had published and I think you have recently given up another job to concentrate on your writing. Can you tell us more about your writing life at the moment and any writing projects you currently  have on the go?

Sarah: I decided to take a year off work to allow myself to reconnect with all the things that I never seemed to have enough time for: writing, taking classes, culture, visiting new places, seeing more of family and friends and getting involved in local initiatives. Several people told me that I was ‘very brave’, which I think was shorthand for ‘crazy’. It’s been enormously rewarding and I’m so pleased I did it. My working life has always involved writing for business and I wanted to concentrate on purely creative projects for a change.

The Bath Short Story Award was my first placement in a competition. I have since won the Ilkley Festival Short Story prize and a couple of my shorter pieces were selected for City Lit’s 2017 anthology, Between the Lines. I love writing short stories and have got several on the go in various stages of development. There’s also a character currently occupying many pages of notebooks who may have a longer story to tell…

I’ve gone way over my allotted time off now so my objective for 2018 is to find a job that pays the mortgage and allows me the time and mental space to continue writing. I can’t imagine stopping now.

Jude: When did you first become interested in writing?

Sarah:I’ve always been interested in writing. I wrote a couple of (unpublished) novels for older children in the distant past but for many years my main outlet has been writing for business. It can be a good discipline – writing for different audiences, finding hooks to engage the reader, using narrative arcs – but unfortunately you have to stick to the truth, which can be very limiting.

Jude: You studied at the City Lit in London recently. How has that helped your writing?

Sarah:At the start it was just helpful to have assignments and deadlines, and to give some routine to my life when I stepped out of the work environment. Also to build up a number of short pieces that might get ultimately be developed into longer stories. Later it occurred to me that I ought to learn something of the theory behind writing short stories, so that I would at least know the rules before I broke them. However, that’s all stuff I could have achieved on my own. The big value came from exposure to other people, other writing, other ideas. It was a great forum to test out work and to meet fellow writers. I am now in two writing groups with people I met in City Lit classes. I don’t act on every piece of feedback I receive, but I do make sure I think it through. Generally when I take a draft to a writing class or group I then put it aside for a while before revising. Then I can come back to both the piece and the feedback with more objectivity.

Jude:Who are the short story writers you admire, and what do you like about their writing?

So many! I came to short stories via contemporary writers — Alice Munro, Tessa Hadley, Stella Duffy, George Saunders. One of my recent reads is Mark Haddon’s ‘The Pier Falls’. I loved the whole collection but that title story in particular. It is almost journalistic in style, telling a shocking story in a very matter of fact way.

I’m currently reading Claire Keegan’s ‘Walk the Blue Fields’ collection, which is beautiful and sad. Her insight into human nature is incredible and she has the ability to switch the tone of a story when you are least expecting it. All using very simple prose.

The writer I have been reading for the longest period of time is Helen Simpson. I’ve read each of her collections since the 1990s, during which time her subject matter has progressed from dating to marriage to motherhood to ageing. I feel I’ve grown older with her work so each collection has struck a chord.

Jude: Can you give us a tip for those who might want to write a story for our next Award, ending in April, 2018?

Sarah:The time spent not writing your story is an important part of the writing process. Get at least one round of feedback on your story but don’t act on it immediately. Never submit anything that you have only just finished. Always leave time to come back at it afresh. Even if it’s only a few days.