Friday, 12 February 2016

Story Behind the Story: A Thousand Words

This week, for the very first time, I became a published author.

That sounds very dramatic, but I must include the following detail-- that the publication I am speaking of was a short story which was included in the collection (Re)sisters, published by the lovely people at For Books' Sake in the UK.  I'm very humbled to have been selected for the collection, which is a collection aimed at Young Adult readers, encompassing stories of female empowerment and coming of age.  It's got a fabulous cover, and I cannot wait until my copy (finally) arrives down under.  Fingers crossed for next week.

I thought I would write a blog post today about the story I have in this collection, which is called A Thousand Words.  It's not actually a thousand words long, it's closer to three thousand, which is fairly typical for my short stories, and for short story competitions in general.  It's about a girl who goes on a road trip with two friends she's known since high school, and one of them decides to invite a girl he has a crush on to come with them.



Inspiration for short stories can come from a lot of places.  For me, sometimes its a conflation of random events; a photo I've seen, a news story on the nightly news, and something a customer says to me in passing.  Bang.  They become plaited together in my mind and it seems so obvious I cannot believe no one has ever related the random things to one another before.  Sometimes, too, I draw from things that happen to me, and things that happen to other people I know.  I take details from the real events and I relate them on a universal scale.  This is hardly original, I think a lot of writers do it.  In the case of A Thousand Words, something that happened to me revealed a larger truth about the nature of friendship and growing up.  The thing that I learned niggled at me until I wrote it down.  Writing about this sad thing that happened, and working out the kinks of it all on paper in a way I hadn't been able to do in real life was a way of moving on from it, and in doing that I also realised that the thing that happened to me must have happened to a lot of people before and was going to happen to a lot of people again in the future.  I'm talking about the moment that you realise a friendship isn't as solid as you thought it was.

My main character in the story, Amy, is a lot tougher than me, and she's a lot more disciplined.  When the three friends all go off to different Universities, she thinks that she's going to be able to keep the old group together if she works at it hard enough, but the thing she's not admitting to herself is that she has a lot at stake because she hasn't made any new friends, whereas the two boys she's close to have.  What I wanted to do with Amy was explore some things that I had been anxious about in that particular time of my life.  First of all there was the anxiety about trying new things and being out of her comfort zone.  The story takes place at a big music festival in a rural town she's never been to before, so she's nervous about getting lost, or left behind, or having her things stolen.  She's also been the one to organise the whole thing, so when stuff starts to go wrong, she feels like the others are going to turn around and blame her.  On top of that, she's nineteen years old and she's starting to notice that everyone around her is falling in love.  And she's not.  The only two boys in her life are these two friends.

So this is the background to A Thousand Words, a story which took me several years and several drafts to get into the hands of an editor who loved it.  It spent a lot of time in a drafts folder not being worked on, and every so often I would take it out and change things-- that was interesting too, going back as a twenty-four or twenty-three year old writer and looking at the way nineteen year old me wrote and thought.

If you want to see the outcome of these efforts, (Re)sisters is now available from the For Books' Sake website and fingers crossed I will also soon have an Australian supplier sorted out!



If you've made it this far through the post, you might also like to consider supporting writing on a more local scale and donating to Westerly magazine, which lost funding this year in the recent arts cuts!

2 comments:

  1. I remember an earlier iteration of this story, don't I? Congratulations on in being published! x

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  2. Em, I just tried to buy the anthology, and there's something wrong with the website—it keeps telling me my cart is empty even though the book is in it. I've tried a couple of times, but I get the same problem. Maybe I'll wait until you get an Aussie supplier, or do you have a copy I can buy?
    By the way, there have been a number of good reviews about the anthology, too: http://missbriony.com/blog/resisters, and http://www.autostraddle.com/read-a-fcking-book-resisters-knows-that-to-be-queer-is-to-be-powerful-327331/.

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