• LISP Team

MJ Harbottle, LISP Flash Fiction FINALIST

MY FATHER, OUR RIVER BY MJ Harbottle, LISP Flash Fiction FINALIST

- Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?

Most people call me MJ. I live in North Yorkshire, in James Herriott country, with my husband Mark and our rescue Jack Russell terrier, Hari. I teach law to university undergrads, which I love - my wonderful, lively students keep me on my toes! I'm a keen gardener and we also have an allotment, which keeps us busy at weekends. I also enjoy fly fishing, and do a bit of subversive cross-stitch on the side - both when time allows.

- When and how did you get into writing?

I started just as the first lockdown hit in March 2020. I'd signed up to an online beginners crime fiction writing course with the National Centre for Writing. It was run by the author Nicola Upson - and I loved it! I learned so much from Nicola, who was a terrific tutor and a great support. When the course ended, Nicola encouraged me to carry on writing and I also decided to enter some short pieces into literary competitions. I've been long/short-listed by Writers on the Edge, long-listed by The Staunch Book Prize, been placed 3rd by Shady Grove Literary and now a finalist for the London Independent Story Prize.

- How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?

I have absolutely no routine whatsoever and am hugely envious of people who are that well organised. I have to fit my writing in around my teaching and marking duties, so my stretches of greater output tend to be during university vacation times. Anything else is just crammed in, as and when I can. There's nothing specific that inspires me - it can be almost anything; a photograph, a news story, a throwaway remark. At the moment, I'm working on a Flash which was inspired by a comment over a cup of tea from my friend Susan, who lives 4 doors up from me. I immediately thought, 'Oooh - that would make a good short story!' But when I need to clear my head to think a story through, I take Hari the dog out for a run across the fields and down to the river.

- How does it feel to have your work recognised?

Utterly amazing and very affirming. The first time I was long-listed I simply couldn't believe it! I'm still very much suffering from imposter syndrome. I have friends who are 'proper writers', whereas I feel that I'm still just titting about with words.

- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about writing a Story?

The best thing is coming up with a new idea for a story and seeing where you can run with it. The most challenging thing (especially with Flash Fiction) is trying to work to the word count, although I have come to realise that being forced to trim your story down to fit the word count often improves 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?

It was originally part of a longer narrative from some months ago, but I felt it could tell its own story as a standalone piece. As a flyfisher it particularly resonated with me and always reminds me of my late older brother, who was also a flyfisher, and who I still miss terribly.

- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a Story?

Read, read, read, everyone else's stories to see what makes a good one. You may think your story is great - and it is to you - but it may not appeal to a wider audience because they can't see the images inside your head. Don't be afraid of constructive criticism. Listen to advice - you don't have to take it if you don't want to - sometimes it's really helpful. If you're writing Flash Fiction, the title and the first couple of lines need to hook your reader with the beauty, or excitement, of your words, and not let them go.

- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions?

The most challenging thing is working to a deadline, as well as a word count. The best thing is knowing that independent judges are reading your words and may just like them.

- Lastly, do you recommend the writers give a go on LISP?

Absolutely. If you never try, you'll never know. Take a deep breath and do it.


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