Writing on a theme.
I recently entered a themed short story competition and found it a struggle. The idea for the 2,500 words came easily enough, but I felt pressure. The deadline coming up so soon after Christmas was clearly part of the problem. A few more competitions have recently popped into my inbox, many with themes and some that will later publish an anthology. Would I buy and read a themed anthology? It doesn’t really appeal; I know all the stories will be different and undoubtedly, as the bar is very high these days, the quality of the writing will be high. Nevertheless, a whole anthology on one theme doesn’t arouse my curiosity as much as an anthology of mixed stories.
I tried understand why I felt pressured and realised it reminded me of the times when, as an artist, I painted outdoors. People had a habit of standing a couple of feet behind me, just out of vision; it was very off–putting, far better to be engaged in conversation rather than scrutinised by a mute onlooker. Perhaps the issue with the themed story was the sense of the mute presence of the judges, with their just out of vision expectations of the theme.
My ideas come from everywhere; I have curiosity and a mind that gathers anything that glimmers. I wonder what it would look like if you could open up the brain of a writer or artist and look in to see what’s going on. I believe it would be a bizarre and magical place with an extraordinary level of comings and goings; words, thoughts, visions and characters.
I store my ideas in notebooks and a computer file and periodically I take a look and see if some of them are ready. It’s rather like proving bread, waiting for the idea to rise sufficiently to form into a reasonable story. I have one that is inspired by a pair of identical trees on a hill not far from where I live, I have wanted to write this for some time, but it had not risen. Recently I watched a television documentary that gave me the trajectory and denouement of this story and now it has formed in my mind and I am ready to begin. Writing a short story can take weeks and sometimes, if an aspect gives me difficulty and remains unresolved, I park it for a year or two and come back to it later, which is the case with this story beginning with these trees.
In March the Words and Women Four anthology will be published and I can’t wait to get my hands on it, because the range is extraordinary. If you are an aspiring short story writer and planning to enter a competition you really should be reading the anthologies as they give you an idea of the range, the breadth of content and the standard.
As I said in my last blog 2017 is the year that I go for it, without hesitation or restraint and hopefully distraction. I sowed a number of seeds last year and some are coming to fruition. I have just been invited to give attend a literary invent at Murray Edwards College Cambridge (formally New Hall) where I will be giving a workshop ‘Object Lesson’ (about the objects and images that inspire my short stories). They approached me and this seems like a good omen for my creative year.