LISP Short Story FINALIST, CERTIFIABLE by Ian Bell
- Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?
I started writing after reading some novels by Janet Inglis. She has written among others, Daddy's Girl and Father of Lies. The books are about a family in London, in the 1990s and could be described as psychological drama. Much of the drama centres on a girl called Olivia, who is growing up in Highgate. The novels are compelling and it's the reason I started to write - to see if I could write as well as Janet Inglis. I'm still trying.
- When and how did you get into writing?
I started trying to write fiction, and while working nights at a hotel in York I managed to get a job as a reporter for the Big Issue. This involved writing on cafes, bars, art galleries and festivals. Journalism is tougher than fiction (I think) because you're always on a deadline and you're dealing with real people. Write something that might not be true, and you could be in trouble. By contrast, in fiction you just write what you want. If it works it's right, and if it doesn't it's not.
- How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?
I try and write when I have a room to myself as I find it all but impossible to write properly when other people are around. Other people are just annoying, don't you think? My routine is just pick up a pen or start typing. For some reason the closest I've got to inspiration is what you might call photographs, or else stills from films - particularly British horror films for some reason. The photos can be colour or even sepia-tinted. But if you see a person's face, and particularly if they are involved in doing something - working in a kitchen or even killing someone, it can trigger an idea as to what that person might do next. Horror films from the 1970s are a particular inspiration, but what that says about me I've no idea.
- How does it feel to have your work recognised?
It's great to be recognised by the LISP. Sadly, this industry - creative writing, publishing, call it what you will - seems to be notoriously conservative. I've written a novel, several in fact, but trying to find an agent - never mind a publisher - is close to impossible. The celebrity writers appear to have taken over, be it weather girls, footballers, pop singers, MPs you name it. That's why LISP is so important, to know that what you write will be read by someone. The importance of that cannot be stressed enough.
- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about writing a Story?
The most challenging thing about writing a story is creating characters that actually live. There's a short story by Patricia Miles, who sadly died only a year or so ago. Her short story is called Exit and is a terrific example of building an atmosphere in just a few lines. Two boys on their way home from school decide to visit an abandoned church to see if they can find a ghost. I won't spoil the ending, but Exit is one of the best short stories ever written. It's an existential thriller, but it's barely five pages long. It can be found in The Magnet Book of Strange Tales, edited by Jean Russell. I recommend reading it.
- 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?
My idea for Certifiable came from the simple premise that people are interested in unpleasant individuals. That's our reality, in the same way that people are fascinated by Jack the Ripper. Grim, but true. If someone is outwardly respectable but inwardly has a secret - or worse - it's often a good starting point.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a Story?
As regards tips, the only practical one I can think of is get hold of a pen and a pad of paper. Then write non-stop for thirty minutes. After thirty minutes you'll have either a page, or maybe even a couple of pages. What you write is up to you. Waiting for a bus that never arrives. Trying to win an Olympic medal. Planning the assassination of someone. But once you've written down those first thirty minutes of words don't stop, just keep going. You might be surprised what you end up with.
- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions?
The best thing about competitions is knowing someone will read your work. LISP provide a vital service. In my experience, agents and publishers are not accessible people at all. They are aloof. It's like trying to contact your local MP - agents and publishers rarely if ever reply. Writers need feedback, and if you don't get that it's hard to get any perspective. Personally, I think the publishing industry needs an overhaul. Scouts should be out looking for talent, as opposed to companies - Random House for example - throwing millions at famous people to write books before a word has ever been written. Then when they get the book, they're sometimes shocked at how bad it is. Well, if they did their homework - like we are told to do - perhaps they wouldn't be so shocked.
- Lastly, do you recommend the writers give a go on LISP? I would strongly recommend any writer to enter LISP. Do it. All entrants know their story, screenplay, flash fiction is going to be read. That puts LISP above the publishers/agents to begin with. We need more like yourselves offering a platform to people who so rarely get it. Publishing, is notoriously conservative. We need less maverick American detectives and a bit more imagination at work. I think so, anyway.
Hope the above is of some help, and my congratulations to my fellow finalists. Well done to everyone of them.