LISP Short Story FINALIST, DARKNESS AND DISCORD by Pete Armstrong
- Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?
I live in a small town in central Sweden, mostly looking after our young girls, but then reading, writing and playing a little Bach on the guitar when they are at school. I walk through local skog most days, spotting the occasional moose, fortunately, we are south of the bear country. Evenings are spent accompanying violin, theatre, handball and swimming trips, invariably with a paperback in my pocket. My only remaining doubt is how I landed such a cushy number.
- When and how did you get into writing?
I worked in an office for years, but then a sudden lifestyle change catapulted me here with no choice other than to stay at home with family and spend my own time writing. My good fortune still seems hard to believe. I'm an organised sort of person, so naturally started with a few courses. My first ever submission was taken up by Vernal Equinox and I thought I had this game sussed, but a year of rejections soon sorted out that nonsense. Slowly, though, the positive replies started to dot themselves amongst the many more rejections. My list of publications is growing.
- How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?
I'm lucky enough to have space to write every day, so I sit here for exactly one CD's worth (Fatma Said this morning) and produce another 600 words. I edit for about the same time each afternoon. It's autumn as I write this, so the view outside the window is particularly good. I write in a planful way, plotting out frameworks and following a three-act model. I try and write about ordinary people and connect with the reader's own life, developing characters that make the story thrilling, without recourse to thrilling events.
I admire Jhumpa Lahiri, Colm Toibin, Hjalmer Söderberg as great artists, producing works of beauty. If I can capture a fraction of their depiction of humanity I am doing well.
- How does it feel to have your work recognised?
Recognition is wonderful, always good to get a response of any kind when the job is so lonesome and insular. But really publication is everything. It's great if a reviewer makes nice comments, but to have a story published and read, even if only by a small number of people, makes it all worthwhile. That is the greatest outcome.
- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about writing a Story?
Writing is a wonderful discipline. I guess that most readers have a head gently spinning with ideas for characters, plots, descriptive paragraphs and twist endings, all in a random jumble. It's harder than you think to take these unstructured ideas and actually put down a story - beginning, middle and end - on paper, but then very satisfying when complete. It's challenging to take a good story and try to make it very good. For me it's a technical process, trying to get details right around the narrative point of view, narrative voice, structure, description, reveal and other things, without getting so technical that you lose the joy of the tale. Editing your initial ideas is at least as hard again as writing the original.
- 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 wrote the original a long time ago, and liked my protagonist immediately, she's my kind of person. I love trying to write about music (or art, or flavour, something emotional) in depth, saying something more than just it sounded good. My story alternates two separate timelines, and something about the original wasn't quite right. It took several goes, and some fantastic comments from an independent reader, before I made the right changes and the whole piece fell into place. Independent readers are brilliant.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a Story?
Well, independent readers are still brilliant. I think that leaving a story alone for a month between edits is one of the best things you can do. I try and do this twice, and invariably still want to make changes on the second edit. Leaving it alone is the best way of identifying those areas where you know what it is you wanted to write, but you actually wrote something different. I do this a lot.
- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions?
Competitions are a great way to inspire your writing, but there are lots of good writers out there and you are going to fail to be placed a lot. Like, really, a lot. Ignore these, only count successes.
- Lastly, do you recommend the writers give a go on LISP?
Absolutely, read these great winning stories online and think to yourself, "I was part of that." Everything is better when you take part.