Write On, a Leicester Writers’ Showcase featured the anthology “Lost and Found: Stories from Leicestershire Writers” (Dahlia Publishing, 2016) at Leicester’s Central Library. The evening had eight writers reading extracts from their stories and question and answer sessions with the writers and Farhana Shaikh, publisher.
Farhana Shaikh welcomed everyone and introduced the first four readers. I was first to read with an extract from my story “Someone Else’s Wallpaper”. It’s about a young couple, Mark and Charlotte, who move into a new house with their baby, Bethany. The house had been refurbished before they moved in with the exception of the master bedroom which had a chintzy rose-covered wallpaper. Charlotte’s been haunted by the scent of roses and suspects the roses have been multiplying. When Bethany takes ill with suspected pneumonia, a well-intentioned neighbour reveals a secret about the previous owner to Charlotte. Next up was Drew Gummerson reading from “Adrian” told from a viewpoint of a fifteen-year-old boy whose parents have (separately) left home so he falls under the influence of Adrian. Grace Haddon followed with “Zenith”, a story about a community on a space station where it’s announced they will be returning “home” (i.e. back to earth) but one girl, who was born on the space station, wonders where exactly her home is. Tony R Cox finished the readings for the first half with “Under a Savage Sky” about a man trying to make a home in an isolated house when storm forces him to confront the reason he’d been force to leave his previous home, a reason he’d buried in denial.
The question and answer session started with a discussion on inspiration. Grace said she’s brainstormed and took the idea to an extreme – what does home mean if you were born in space? Tony placed his main character in a place where he has to make a home. Drew’s story had elements of biography. Mine was inspired by a house viewing where a house had been refurbished but it looked as if the builders had thought “let’s give the main bedroom a feminine touch” and gone for garish pink-rosed wallpaper which got me thinking about who might have chosen such a wallpaper to live with and why. There was a question on how writers felt about being edited. Being edited is part of the job. Drew mentioned one agent liked his novel on the basis of the first ten thousand words he’d sent her but then, seeing the completed book, she asked that the ten thousand words be cut. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those ten thousand words were wasted: the ideas, characters or themes might recur in other work. The “what are you working on now” question was replied with editing, finishing or thinking about novels, drafting poems, about to write a review and writing blog articles. A question about whether writers consider sounds when they write prompted a discussion about how useful it was to read work aloud – whether poetry or prose – because the writer not only heard how it sounded but it highlighted repetitions, tongue-twisting sentences and odd words that were out of keeping with the others. I discussed how sounds leant meaning to the story as well: long vowels create smooth sounds or short, clipped vowels give a staccato rhythm which could be employed to support or counter the narrative strand either reassuring or discomforting the reader. There were thoughts on the differences between poetry and prose, the former being more concentrated and distilled, the latter giving writers more space to explore themes. When asked if I preferred prose or poetry, I said I had a preference for poetry but someone else might answer differently.
The second half followed the same format with readings from Jamie Mollart, whose “Home Game” looks at domestic violence through the lens of a crucial home game for Leicester City Football Club. Amy Ball with “Buzz’s Fury” about discrimination faced by a couple travelling with a circus. Rebecca Burns read from “Moving the Furniture” where a homesick woman yearns to return to England after circumstances push her to emigrate to New Zealand. Siobhan Logan’s “Whitby Jet” starts as a final holiday before an elderly lady surrenders to being packed off into a care home, which uncovers hidden memories.
When questioned about the differences between a novel and short story, the four seemed in agreement that short stories were more succinct, focused and offer more opportunity to experiment with form or structure. The writers felt their best short stories came when they could see how it was going to end before beginning to write. Farhana mentioned that in selecting stories for the anthology, all editors were clear that they wanted stories with a strong ending, not necessarily one that tied up all loose ends, but one that stayed in the reader’s mind and rewarded re-reading. Jamie pointed out that weak stories were those set up to end on a punchline that was interesting once but didn’t sustain re-reading. Some of the panel confessed to using music to set a mood. Jamie’s novels had soundtracks, music he’d played whilst writing, as it helped with a consistency of tone. Amy said she found music distracting while she actually wrote because she’d get caught up in the song and lose sight of the page. All four said they would read sections aloud while writing.
Leicester Writes is running a short story competition with shortlisted and prize-winning stories included in an anthology to be published by Dahlia Publishing. Full Leicester Writes Short Story Competition details here.