Imagine you’re at the start of your creative writing life. You have a short story. You have no idea if it’s any good. But you send it off anyway to a national, well-respected short story competition – the first one you’ve ever entered.
You wait and wait. Then the results come in and you nearly fall over.
You won? You won!
Sounds like a dream, right? But that’s exactly what happened to E.C. Thorpe – winner of this year’s Stringybark Short Story Competition (open theme) with a lovely story of a mother and son, and the impact of dementia on their roles in the relationship.
It’s such a pleasure to bring you this interview – and I have a feeling it won’t be the last we’ve heard of this exciting new writer.
Hi Emily. Congratulations on your win! Can you tell me about the inspiration for your story ‘Standing By’?
My inspiration was my own mother. About a year ago, she developed pneumonia and ended up in hospital and then a nursing home for about six months. There was a period of a month or two when she was in and out of consciousness and she didn’t recognise us or know who she was… it was a very emotional time for us, to say the least. But my story ends happily because she recovered and came home.
The story has a lot of my own life weaved throughout, but I’d call it a fictional work at the end of the day. I often wondered about what it would be like to finally make that decision as a son or daughter, watching their parent lose themselves a little each day to Alzheimer’s. Or what would be the effect on my children if they had to decide for me? It’s a heart-breaking process, watching a loved one, especially a mother, who reigned supreme over a family for forty-fifty years, only to lose all those qualities that made her strong, large and in charge. I was exploring those feelings through my story and I hope I uncovered some dignity and strength in telling this story for people who have lived it.
As for winning the competition, can I be totally real for a moment? This was the very first short story competition I have ever entered, and I absolutely cannot fathom that I actually won. I keep waiting for David Vernon’s email, stating that they accidentally made a mistake and could I please return the prize money. It has absolutely blown my mind and instilled some much needed self-confidence in myself as a writer. It’s been incredible for me to tell all my friends and family that I won. I’ve never won anything sports related at school, or after school, so this is, in my mind, as close to winning the Olympics or an Oscar as I’ll ever get!
What was the process for writing this story?
I wrote this story over one afternoon and edited the next day. At first I started only with the premise of the competition, to keep to the “Australiana” tone throughout. I started the story without any clear plot in mind and it truly only evolved as I wrote it. I think that is why at the beginning of the story, the mother seems to be the strong and in charge one, and the son might have been a high-school drop-out. It was slowly revealed that things weren’t as they seemed, and I think that’s the point where the story clicked into place. Often when I write or start a story, I write to establish characters and flesh them out, if only for my own sake. “Get a feel”, so to speak. In this case, I left the character study and turned it into a story. I was most pleased about how it turned out and revealed its nature.
So being an organic purge that this story was for me, I got it all out and then reread and edited, probably ten or more times. They say writing is re-writing. Ain’t that the truth. This is probably why my first novel isn’t yet completed, because I am forever reading back what I previously wrote and then re-writing sections. Ugg, it’s an obsessive process being a writer! You can lose hours of time and sleep getting caught up in the minute details.
I understand you are relatively new to creative writing – what prompted you to pick up the pen?
I spent the last eight years working in a corporate office environment which I found soul-sucking and devoid of creativity and originality. The money was good and that is probably why I dedicated all my efforts to my work, but it was becoming more and more obvious that I was feeling like a dried out husk of a person. When I write, or create, I feel again. I love my family and I love my friends, but that is external. The Japanese have a saying that you have three faces: the one you show others, the one you show your close loved ones and the one you show yourself. Honestly, the face I showed myself wasn’t too pretty. I needed to write.
I also understand your are writing a novel. Can you tell me a bit about that project?
I’m currently writing a erotic-romance novel, which is pure fantasy and not at all based on my own life! My partner loves telling the neighbours that I stay up late writing dirty books! I want to throttle him sometimes, haha.
This story is about a plus-size heroine, who is having a middle aged crisis and wants to better herself physically and mentally. Her marriage isn’t very intimate and she’s lost a bit of her identity over the years. She joins a gym and is introduced to a young, handsome personal trainer who takes his job a bit too personally. There are a few twists and turns, but its a feel-good piece, at the end of the day.
I’m hoping to wrap up Book One of this series by the end of this year and have it out as a self-published ebook, and at this point, my working title is ‘Training Angel’. But titles are notoriously hard to decide on…
What’s the trickiest aspect of being an emerging writer? Finding the time? Finding the self confidence?
Definitely finding the time and the inspiration. I call down time “percolating”. Brewing up some strong ideas. Which is just procrastination at its worst.
I like to write late at night hen the kids are asleep and the house is quiet. I wish I had the luxury of day time writing, but constantly being called away from my desk to fetch yoghurt and watermelon or break up fights kinda makes me lose focus.
I am inspired by Agatha Christie’s famous quote: “There was a moment I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of the profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing and aren’t writing particularly well.” I wish I was dedicated enough to follow those words of advice.
Who are your writing influences and why?
Right now I am obsessed with the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I wish I could have written these books. I’m kind of in love with Jamie.
I wrote to my favourite author Steven Saylor, who does the Roma Sub Rosa series a while ago, telling him I’d love to write a story about Livia, wife of Augustus and mother of Tiberius one day, and he was so great and encouraging. He told me how he started out writing and to persevere and keep going. I love him to bits and I read anything he puts out.
Another writer I love is Joseph Duncan. He originally used to write books under the name Rod Redux, and he is an awesome writer. His stories are often supernatural and include vampires, zombies, angels, ghosts…oh he is so good! He changed to his real name now, stating he found his confidence and was proud to use his real name now. I sometimes chat with him on Facebook as he is really good in maintaining friendships with his fan-base. He is a self-published ebook success story, and I’d like to make my mark like him one day.
If you could achieve any particular writing ambition, what would it be?
Just to be able to say I did it. Its a way of connecting with people, but also with myself. I know only the few rare cases make it big in the writing world, but to me, being free to let my imagination roam and tell the stories that spring from that well is enough to keep me happy. I hope a do get a few readers along the way and that my stories mean something to them too.
My writing ambition is just to continue to write and to find more time to write!
Thank you for interviewing me, and again let me just say how wonderful this whole experience with Stringybark Short Stories has been for me. There were so many talented writers and I think it was simply pot-luck with this story that I won. Going up against so many seasoned and incredible authors, who have such fantastic stories must have been a hard choice for the judges. So I thank them completely for their hard work.
Thank you Emily!
You can read Emily’s story in the anthology, Standing By – a collection of the 31 winners and highly commended stories in the Stringybark Short Story Competition *In the interests of full disclosure, the collection also includes my story ‘Frank’s Labyrinth’. To find out more, or purchase a copy, visit the Stringybark Book Shop