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Alice Frecknall, London Independent Story Prize 2024 1st Competition, Short Story Winner 'Baby I Know'

London Independent Story Prize 2024 1st Competition, Short Story Winner 'Baby I Know' Alice Frecknall


Photo Credit: Suzi Corker 

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

 

I currently work for the creative writing charity First Story for half of the week, and around that I’m a freelance writer and fine artist. I also do bits of arts marketing and proofreading on the side. So, it really depends on the day! When I’m not in the office, daily life can range from planning and facilitating writing workshops, to drafting marketing copy or reading proofs, to working on art commissions or my own creative projects. But whenever possible, my days will start with a mug of coffee and a book, and include a run and a good amount of chatting to the cat.     

 

-When and how did you get into writing?

 

I got into writing through reading, initially. When I was a child, I loved to read and writing came alongside that quite naturally, though it never occurred to me that one could be a writer, in a career sense. That aspiration came much later, at university.

 

I got to studying English and creative writing at university in a slightly roundabout way. I’d completed an Art Foundation thinking I’d go to art school, but realised this wasn’t the route I wanted to take. A year out and some reassessing of my options saw me apply to study English and Philosophy at the University of Hull.

 

Creative writing was still relatively new in UK universities, so the open day’s English Department talk was largely focussed on it. At the end of the talk, I went straight to admissions and changed my course. No regrets. I studied English with Creative Writing and then ended up staying an extra year to do a Creative Writing MA.

 

 

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

 

I’m a ‘fits and starts’ writer. I can go for long periods, sometimes months and months, without physically writing anything, then something will catch, and I’ll be back in it, and I’ll work quite obsessively for a time. I say ‘without physically writing’ because I think it’s easy to dismiss the writing that happens around the actual words-on-a-page work. I’ve had to learn that I’m a relatively slow writer in that sense, but that, for me, a lot of the work happens off the page. I’ll carry a feeling or an image around with me for a long time before anything makes in onto paper.

 

I take inspiration from how I experience the world, and from other art and artists. The writers and artists who inspire me most are the ones I feel are creating from a place of need, a need to express and expel something they’ve experienced, and are, therefore, creating work that is unequivocally theirs – Tracey Emin, Jeanette Winterson, Caroline Bird, Marlene Dumas, Sylvia Plath. I can’t imagine ever getting over their work. There’s a rawness, a realness, and an urgency to it; you get the sense that on some level it is survival.

 

-How does it feel to have your work recognised?

 

It’s always a real honour, no matter what form that recognition takes – be it a competition placement, publication, or someone coming up to you after a reading.

 

Writing is such a strange business, so much of it happens privately, often in solitude. You send pieces off into the world and when someone gives one of those space, a home outside you, it’s as though they’re saying, ‘you’ve carried it this far, let me take that for you now’.

 

For me, such an important part of art is the conversation that happens between the piece and the viewer or reader. It’s in that moment you have to surrender control so that the work can really live. So, to have a piece of work recognised in some way feels good, like it’s out there working, living.

 

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

 

The best thing is when you’re so submerged in the writing that the story almost starts to breathe; it starts making choices for itself, like it’s leading you. It’s exciting and disconcerting.

 

The most challenging is perhaps continuing to push through to another draft when you’ve been working on a story for so long and just want to get it over the finish line but know deep down that something still isn’t quite clicking. And the worst is when you can’t quite pinpoint what that ‘something’ is. The short story form isn’t very forgiving, there’s nowhere hide.

 

-How did you develop the idea for your LISP-selected story? Is there a story behind your story? And, how long have you been working on it?

 

There’s always a story behind the story!

 

The writing process for Baby, I know was definitely an example of that thing I was talking about earlier, of carrying something around internally before it becomes anything on the page. I had the very opening: When she comes she has me in a headlock fist-stopping her own mouth, and I had the core feeling of the story. Both were percolating in my head for a while before I sat down to write. Once I did, the bulk of the story was there quite quickly. There’s a feverishness, an intensity to the writing style that leant itself to that way of working, I think. I didn’t know where it was heading, necessarily, it was more a case of leaning into the narrative voice and the dynamic between the two core characters and letting it unfold.

 

The finishing, the editing and the tweaking, were more drawn out and arduous. I have a friend from university, James, whose critiques of my writing I always really value. Looking back now at our email exchanges around this story is hilarious. I’m clearly a little frantic. I can see that the first one is from mid July 2022. The next one after that is late November. In the four months between, it seems I’ve clocked up 12 drafts. James was a great help as the story developed – telling me when I was overplaying it, or when the ending wasn’t the ending. I got the latter feedback a few times, much to my frustration. The ending didn’t settle until just before I submitted to LISP in December 2023.

 

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


I think a key tip I’ve taken on board for any writing is to give it space. Sit with it but also let it sit without you, then go back in.

 

And another is that a little can go a long way, especially in shorter forms of writing. You don’t have to hand everything over on a plate; trust the reader to be an active participant.

 

 

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


For me, competitions and submissions are useful for creating deadlines. They give me a finish line to aim for and even if I overshoot or revisit and rework something after the fact, the deadline will have given me something to push for and helped me move a piece of writing forward. They’re also a brilliant way to discover writers and writing you might not have come across otherwise.

 

I think a challenge is not letting the inevitable rejections mean more than they do. I always tell anyone who’s nervous to submit their writing to just go for it. The more you do it, the more routine it becomes. Of course, there’ll always be the odd rejection that hurts more than the rest, for whatever reason, and it’s okay and important to feel that, but for the most part it’ll just become another part of your process. There are so many factors at play when it comes to work being placed in a competition or getting published. And I think that’s worth remembering. I’ve found it helpful to get a glimpse behind the curtain; I’ve sifted for prizes and selected applications for writing programmes, and you start to understand and appreciate the other side of the process differently.

 

-Lastly, do you recommend writers submit to LISP?


Absolutely!



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