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