Christopher Fielden hosts and manages a very useful web site with advice and resources for short story writers. My favourite section of this comprehensive site is the Competitions listing which Chris keeps up to date with hundreds of story competitions around the world.
It was from this listing that I selected the competition that brought me my first Short Story First Prize, the inaugural Crediton Short Story Competition in 2015.
Chris has kindly featured my story and my journey on his web site.
I watched a friend trying to build a shed at his Turkish villa in two weeks. It reminded me of trying to write a story for a competition with an unrealistic deadline.
‘Two weeks is more than enough to finish the job,’ he told me with a shrug, ‘don’t fret.’
I have drafted and edited stories for competitions for three years now and I regularly shock myself by finding what they call in tennis ‘an unforced error’ – a mistake that even a child could pick up on.
I know that if I leave the story to ferment for a few weeks my perception of its merits will alter dramatically and ideas for improvement will stream into my head.
My friend spent so long agonising over the plan of his hut and taking measurements of this height, that width, this angle and that depth that the execution of the build became impossibly concertina’ed.
Sometimes I fiddle about with the plot and the characters that I lose sight of the whole. My story crumbles like a building with no cement to glue it together.
Back to the shed construction. By the time he had assembled the building materials and begun to mix the cement and cut the wood he had too few days to actually build the structure. And then it rained for three days so nothing could be progressed.
A day before he flew home he had to call in a builder to finish it in a hurry and pay a high premium. It was like applauding when the cavalry come riding over the hill in a cowboy Western.
‘Why didn’t I get him in earlier?’ he whined. ‘Why didn’t I start sooner?’
I have learned that it makes more sense to miss the deadline for a writing competition rather than submit a story that has been inadequately fermented and edited. Last week I gave a competition entry its last once-over before pressing the ‘submit’ button and I discovered that I had made an impossible compression of the timescale.
My protagonist, a young woman, had lost three stones in a week. The tale was about someone losing weight but even in fiction that’s far-fetched.
So I saved it for a different contest – in a new guise – and didn’t waste the entrance fee.
As soon as the man walked in the door I had him down as a queue-jumper. Our branch of the bank gets really busy and as we sit with our tickets waiting for our number to appear above the tellers’ desks, queue-jumpers can be very frustrating and delay our own transactions. You can spend an hour sitting in a bank waiting to deposit some £ sterling or transfer some funds from your savings account.
We all looked on as he headed straight for the nearest teller, who was taking a deposit of a great pile of banknotes from a customer. Probably the weekend’s takings from a small business. It was Monday after all. The teller stopped as he was loading the notes into the counting machine, hand poised mid-air and clutching a wad of money.
The man, in blue Polo shirt and grubby grey trousers, said something to the teller and showed him a laminated card that had the Turkish flag on it. I don’t know what it was. Re-directing him to a teller position at the far end of the bank the teller then carried on loading his banknotes. The counting machine chuntered on.
The man walked to the end of the office and spoke to a woman through the final teller window. She inspected the laminated card he offered her and then raised her voice and spoke to the other tellers in the office as they were serving their customers. Her question to them contained the word ‘calismak’, which is Turkish for ‘work’.
Each teller in turn shook their head and said no. The woman relayed that to the man and he turned slowly and headed for the door. His body language indicated humility and acceptance of the decision.
He wasn’t a queue-jumper. He was a middle-aged man with no work and therefore no money coming in. Today he was probably asking everywhere for work in this busy town. He was prepared to walk into a bank and be publicly humiliated in front of a dozen or so people, just so he could try to find a job. Any little job. Empty the bins, polish the floor, tidy someone’s garden, paint the front door.
I cursed myself for my snap judgement. I was wrong. I admired the man’s courage and my heart went out to him. I wished him success. He wasn’t after charity, just honest work.
Today’s microadventure taught me to think before passing judgement on another.
Filed under adventure, bank, exploits, fiction, judgement, microadventure, queue, queue-jumper, short stories, short story, suspense, Turkey, Turkish, Uncategorized, work, writing
This should spur me on to jot some stories and characters and plots this week. I love beautiful books to write in.
Thick cream pages and hundreds of them, mmm.
Watch this space…
Enjoyed listening to the podcast from For Books’ Sake’s web site.
Kirsty Logan writes with authority and imagination. What a neat, fast-paced story this Weekend Read is. I look forward to next weekend.
Jansson’s prose is wondrous: it is clean, deliberate; an aesthetic so certain of itself it’s breathtaking (Daily Telegraph)
I can’t improve on the DT’s crisp description of Tove Jansson’s beautiful writing. On my iPad I borrowed from Edinburgh City Libraries her collection of short stories Travelling Light. I am reading each one slowly and with appreciation for the philosophy behind it and the quality of the actual prose. I feel as if I am breathing pure oxygen as I read these works.
Tove Jansson was Finnish but she wrote this book in Swedish. It was highly acclaimed in its original language so it is doubly impressive that the translation into English manages to deliver the same power and clarity to the reader. Silvester Mazzarella deserves praise for his English version.
One of the stories, The Summer Child paints a picture of a city boy who comes to stay with a family which lives on an island in the Gulf of Finland. Elis, the boy, seems to have the personality of an alien as he fails to fit in with this warm and welcoming family. He causes friction and rifts and huge levels of frustration in the parents. The desire to know what happens next urges you on.
I had forgotten that I read Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book last year and I recognised the same freshness and intelligence in this short story collection before I remembered this extraordinary author.
oh, if I could write a tenth as well as this!
Very useful input for those of us trying to write fiction, thanks Edith