Carlene Fraser Harris LISP Flash Fiction Winner by 'PAPERCUTS AT THE OFFICE'
- Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?
I’m a writer, editor and aspiring author. A play on words – that’s my happy place. I’m fortunate to be employed in an artistic environment supporting other creatives and authors on their literary journeys and gaining exposure to the back end of the publishing arena. I’m Trinidadian, and my culture is important to me. Bo Anansi stories and parsad at Divali, soca music and Sunday callaloo, a boat trip to Store Bay… it doesn’t get much better than that. I’m also a mother and nurturer to two little girls whose footsteps I hope to be able to walk in someday.
Writing and working from home while being a full-time mom has meant typing the words do laundry and what’s for dinner into work emails and finding that at 2am the words begin to dance off the screen at me. But there’s a deep sense of accomplishment that sits with me and lingers long after I’ve successfully devoted time to my writing or to my manuscript. It’s so personal! So rewarding! A piece of forward movement that’s all my own.
- When and how did you get into writing?
Growing up, I wrote poems and stories and was often preoccupied conjuring scenes that mirrored the tv shows I watched. I tabled it as a teenage hobby and left it there in my room with all the gel pens and journals I’d accumulated. My family migrated to the States when I was 17 and soon life left no space for real writing. But it was something that kept coming back, tapping me on the opposite shoulder like that age old joke every best friend has done – you look to your left, and it snickers on your right. Years later, after moving to Sweden, I thought that it would be a good time to revisit my writing. I began reading more, doing some editing on the side and sinking myself deep into the stories I wanted to tell. But it wasn’t until coming to London 4 years ago and firmly deciding that it is what I was going to do that I really got into it.
I pursued a Master’s in Creative Writing and Publishing at City University of London and graduated with distinction. Since then, I’ve published nonfiction pieces at many publications including Litro Magazine and Epoch Press. My publications also encompass op-Ed pieces on racism and discrimination, identity and the crippling effects of old customs. There is often a voice of activism in my writing that allows me to subtly communicate the urgency of equality and the problems of misunderstanding that we still experience.
- How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?
I read the first question and immediately thought: I need to write more. This past summer has visited a drought on my personal writing. I write my best in the quiet of the night – usually after 9pm – or before the morning gets busy. But my notes app on my phone is my closest companion, housing my thoughts and one-liners as they come to me, keeping them at the ready when I sit to write.
My inspiration comes from the need to challenge norms and vividly express the things that too often go unsaid or unwritten. How we address the things that can settle beneath our skin and fester if we don’t tackle them head on. Or the little minute details that brighten and widen our outlook. I am currently working on a piece called The Ducks Are Diabetic about the misunderstanding and lack of empathy that can exist among friends because of their difference in financial livelihoods, lineage and lack of closeness. It was inspired by a line I heard a friend say while at the duck pond in Victoria Park. It has stuck with me since then, so I decided to build a story around it.
- How does it feel to have your work recognised?
It’s an incredibly motivating and reassuring feeling. It’s a reminder that I’m doing something right – something good. It is a humbling feeling to know that my writing is recognised and enjoyed by well-established authors and budding writers alike. In this competition, I’m proud that my work is taking up the space that it is, sharing this story with so many people. I hope it reverberates into the corners and crevices it needs to.
- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about writing a Story?
It’s challenging to find the most effective words or phrases that will communicate to the reader the cascade of feelings that you have poured into the work. When you write, you live inside the story. And you want the reader to live there, too. With flash fiction, you have to communicate just as much substance and impact in less words. Here’s where you will find that 3 words can often be better than 8.
The best thing? An escape. Writing is a taxed freedom. It is time-consuming and often requires more attention than we can devote, but you can type your way into a moment or scene that transports you out of the trappings of reality. And you can create the space in your story for readers to find their own freedom as they read.
- How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected story? Is there a story behind your story? And, how long have you been working on it?
I have worked in corporate America for a number of years and have been subject to the experiences I alluded to in my story. More recently, some close friends and I, via our group WhatsApp, fell into a conversation around the male agendas that go unnoticed in an office setting – a seemingly insignificant but deep setback – like a paper cut. How hair, clothes and appearance can still have as much sway as a college degree in the hiring process. And how an active part of [female] student debt is constantly second-guessing your academic choices when faced with dead-end jobs and male superiors. We shared our experiences, traumas and inexperience, as it were. And a few nights later, I typed some lines into my notes app.
As a piece of flash fiction, it was important to me to exercise exactness and impact with my word choice. It took a couple of months to settle on the most effective words. I picked it apart short sentence by short sentence. And the use of strikethrough represented all the things we wished we were brave enough to say in those moments; we replay the scene, plugging in our rehearsed responses, vowing to be more courageous next time.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a Story?
I can share what has worked for me over the past couple of years.
Take notes – even with the best memory, great ideas can seep out. That brilliant phrase that joined you in the shower or the perfect prose that garnished your sandwich at lunch time…write them down immediately.
Make the time to write. Treat your writing with respect, like the invaluable art that it is, the job that it is, and not casually like a fleeting hobby. Give it time and it will give back.
- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions?
Deadlines are always challenging when, as writers, we can obsess over the readiness and suitability of a story. The more competitions you try, the easier it comes to you.
Winning is the best part. But the judges are a close second. Though I don’t know them personally, I know my work will have had the chance to pass through their expert hands. The same hands that wrote books like Out of Touch and Lupu. I meet them virtually, their online bios packing a wealth of achievement in the book industry. And now they’re reading my story!! A win upon application.
- Lastly, do you recommend the writers give a go on LISP?
I do. As a London-based creative writer, it feels like a rite of passage to even submit to this competition. And winning it is all the more of an accomplishment on the road to literary prowess.