How to Win the Fish Short Story Prize 2018, in six easy steps:
(This article first appeared in the Autumn 2018 Wivenhoe News, No. 77)
1: Ages 0 – 10
Be a quiet child who reads voraciously and daydreams (warning: the latter can get you into trouble at school). Look forward to Fridays, after break (once the terrifying ‘Twenty Mental’ is out of the way) when you can come in after playtime to choose from three titles on the blackboard for an hour’s uninterrupted silent daydreaming and writing. Bliss!
2: Ages 10-20
Continue daydreaming and reading as much as possible, with mixed results. Ignore the ‘could try harder’s and ‘Helen is too quiet’ on your school report and focus on this gem: ‘Helen’s stories are a pleasure to read.’
3: Ages 20-30
At university, talk late into the night about writing that novel one day, but play women’s football instead. Convince yourself that only bright young things from Oxbridge publish novels, and become a primary school teacher. At least you can pass on your love of books and writing.
4: Ages 30-40
Take some Maternity Leave and scribble secret stories on scraps of paper when you think no one is looking, or your young children are napping. Become even more impressed with children’s writers, grab a few minutes to daydream (reading with small children is hard!) and go back into primary teaching.
5: Ages 40-50
Don’t exactly have a mid-life crisis, but definitely have a mid-life reckoning. Ask yourself are you really ever going to write anything? Sign up for a safe, anonymous online writing course. Love it! Take the first ever Creative Writing course in the Wivenhoe Bookshop Shed with wonderful Thorunn Bacon. Love this, too! Daydreaming and reading are encouraged! Get over your dislike of reading your writing aloud to other people. Let the writing snowball. Do another course in The Shed with the inspirational Petra McQueen. Reading and daydreaming still allowed! Make writing friends from both groups. Sign up for a Creative Writing MA from the University of Essex. Meet yet more amazing and inspirational people, read, learn, read, write, daydream …
6: Age 50 onwards…:
Complete the MA. Step into the unknown. Give up teaching! Hurrah! Become a shameless brazen hussy who’ll show stories to long-suffering family, friends and complete strangers at the drop of a hat. Enter LOADS of writing competitions. Get LOADS of rejections. Have some small successes and feature on a few short lists. Join a supportive writing group or two. My groups are The Shed Writers and The Wivenhoe Writers.
Daydream! Read! Write! Have the biggest-ever dollop of luck with the Fish Short Fiction prize (visit Bantry, County Cork, meet interesting and talented writers), read, write, daydream…
Start by putting pen to paper, or by typing letters into your chosen screen!
On a serious note, you can leap into writing at any age. I’m friends with writers in their eighties and I was a late-starter. Living in Wivenhoe couldn’t be better or more supportive for any would-be writer: The Writers Company, Word After Word, Words Down the Line, Poetry Wivenhoe, Wivenhoe Funny Farm are just a few places where you can learn/see your work in print/mix with like-minded writers.