We like to hear about previous prize winners’ successes. Hilary Taylor won third prize in BSSA 2018 with her story ‘Sea Defences’ and her story is published in our BSSA 2018 anthology. In this interview she tells us how she extended this prize winning short fiction into a novel with the same title, which will be published by Lightning Press on January 15th 2023. Congratulations Hilary! We also learn how she discovered her short story ‘Sea Defences’ online, analysed for an exam syllabus. A multi-genre writer, Hilary was recently a winner in the Flash 500 flash fiction contest and there’s a link to the story for you to read. She’s also given great advice for editing final short story drafts if you are thinking of entering this year’s Award.
Hilary Taylor grew up in Suffolk and Hampshire, and is a graduate of Edinburgh University. She lives in Suffolk, where she taught for almost twenty years, and now writes, reads, has serial arty-crafty obsessions (paper-making, marbling, wool-felting), and goes for long walks before breakfast. She has five grown-up children, and, at the last count, eight grandchildren. Her short fiction has won or been listed in competitions, including the Bridport Prize, Bare Fiction, the Bath Short Story Award and Flash500, and has been published in magazines and anthologies. Sea Defences is her first novel (although of course there are previous ones ‘in a drawer’, where they should probably stay.) You can find her on twitter @hilarytaylor00
- Your story ‘Sea Defences’ won third prize in our 2018 Award, and your debut novel based on this story is being published in 2023. Our judge for that year.Literary Agent, Euan Thorneycroft said this about it:
“The most ambitious in terms of pure “Story” in that it felt this idea could work as the basis for a novel. Which makes it even more impressive that the author has crafted this into an excellent short, punchy stretch of writing… some wonderfully wry and playful writing helps make this an engrossing story with a quietly haunting note.”
Where did the idea for the story come from?
It came from a challenge set in a writing group. Members had to make certain choices before knowing exactly what the challenge entailed. I chose the number 29, (later revealed as the number of years between past and present events in the story), the motivation of ‘atonement’, and, from a list of possibilities, the inclusion of a storm. There also had to be an object connecting the past with the present.
- Was it Euan’s comment that prompted you to turn it into a novel? And can you tell us the process of extending your story into a novel?
Winning a prize in the BSSA was brilliant! Thank you to the readers and to Euan Thorneycroft, the judge, and to Ad Hoc Fiction for publishing the anthology. I wrote the story some months before I entered the competition, and had already started work on turning it into a novel. So, no, Euan’s comments didn’t prompt me, but they did confirm that it was a good idea.
One of my first decisions was to include other point-of-view characters. The short story is narrated by a young fossil hunter with a secret. The novel adds his mother, and the mother of the missing child. I asked a lot of ‘what if’ questions, worked hard on character development, and visited the North Norfolk coast numerous times to absorb the setting. I wrote an outline and a rough draft of the first 30,000 words, shared it with book doctor Andrew Wille, who wondered (among other invaluable comments) if the story might belong more to the mother of the missing child than to the fossil hunter. This made absolute sense, and the novel took off from there.
- Do you have the publication date for the novel yet? Our BSSA team would love to read it.
Sea Defences, the novel, is due to be published in January 2023 by Lightning Books. I’m working through my editor’s notes at the moment.
- You recently discovered that the same prize winning short story, Sea Defences, has been used in a Danish exam syllabus and there is an analysis of it available in English, online. It must have been quite a surprise. What did you think of the analysis?
It was an absolute shock! I was googling myself (does everyone do this, or is it just me?!) and found essays about my story! I dug further and found the Danish exam paper and a students’ website with a Study Guide. They kindly gave me access so that I could read the whole guide. The analysis it gave was very thorough, and quite gratifying to read, although there was mention of some symbolism I hadn’t realised was in the story! You can read the opening section of the analysis here.
- Your moving and beautifully detailed flash fiction story ‘Make Do And Mend’ recently won second prize in the Flash 500 writing competition. It feels as if this, too, could develop into a longer sequence of writing. Is that something you had in mind?
- Finally,our 2022 Award deadline ends just four weeks today on Monday April 11th. What tips would you give writers for revising final drafts?
Thank you. I was delighted to win that prize – I really believed in the piece. I don’t think it will become anything longer, but I’m currently working on something that’s partly set on the Home Front in the 1940s, so I’ve been researching things like the Make Do and Mend campaign. I suppose instead of something longer growing from a short piece, the short piece was a by-product of preparing a longer work.
I’ve always looked on the wordcount limit as a friend. Cutting words tightens up the prose, and I find my stories are always better after surgery. It’s become a bit of a cliché, but do you need those adverbs, those qualifiers, those extra adjectives? In any writing, but particularly in short fiction, if you can make a word do several jobs, all the better. Words have more than a simple meaning. They have associations, sound, rhythm. They conjure up images, emotions, memories. Make them count – a new meaning to ‘wordcount’!
My story jumped about a bit with chronology which was risky, but paid off. If you do this, make sure it’s not confusing.
Check that your story begins and ends in the right place and evokes the emotion you intend it to.
Read it aloud, or perhaps better still, get someone else to read it aloud.