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Avi Ben-Zeev, London Independent Story Prize 2024 1st Competition Flash Fiction Winner 'Homeward Bound'

London Independent Story Prize 2024 1st Competition Flash Fiction Winner 'Homeward Bound' by Avi Ben-Zeev

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

I’m a naturalised American citizen, gay trans man, writer, and psychologist. I live in and write from a cosy attic overlooking London’s bustling West End, inspired by this city’s vibrancy and diversity.


As an immigrant and “other”, my writing explores the challenges and freedoms of journeying towards belonging and home. Early in my gender transition, I misguidedly tried killing off my past female self. But Talia fought back. She kept barging into consciousness, insisting on being seen and integrated into Avi, the man I was becoming. My memoir, Trans Bear Diaries: Calling My Deadname Home, tells our story.


Ultimately, I experience writing (and reading) as a way of transcending the self and connecting to what makes us human: the pains, pleasures, and meanings of being alive—in our bodies. To me, storytelling is community building: a way to elevate all voices, especially those traditionally unheard.


- When and how did you get into writing?


The COVID pandemic prompted a realisation: After receiving a cognitive psychology PhD from Yale and over 20 years of teaching and research in the US, I still loved psychology, but it was time to pursue a new chapter in life—a creative writing career in the UK. So, in 2021, I said a loving goodbye to a psychology professorship position in San Francisco to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London.


Was my new pursuit a romanticised midlife crisis masquerading as meaningful change? Would I fall short? These initial concerns dissipated when I discovered that bringing a research-based, psychological lens to creative writing allowed me to pursue inquiries like, ‘What do identity, belonging, and home mean?’ in a way that proved richer and more accessible than “academese”.


I graduated from Birkbeck’s MFA in Creative Writing with distinction and have since published short stories and received literary awards, including winning the 2023 short story category in the UK’s first transgender writing competition and being shortlisted and highly commended for the 2023 Oxford Flash Fiction Prize. My memoir, Trans Bear Diaries: Calling My Deadname Home, published by Muswell Press, will be released on 14 November 2024.


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


When London falls asleep, my attic light is still on. I write between two and five hours each evening and into the night, as much as my day job allows. 


- How does it feel to have your work recognised?


Amazing! The reality of being a writer is harsh—we need to get comfortable with the disproportionate ratio of rejections to acceptances or quit while we’re ahead. So, when LISP’s good news caught me in the British Library, I broke into (an inner) dance.


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


How not to conflate intensity with intimacy and remain emotionally open-hearted and vulnerable.


- 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?


“Homeward Bound” is written in the same spirit as my memoir: Internalising trauma, I blamed little Talia for all that went wrong—unwanted touch and a dispiriting working-class existence. But becoming the man I aspired to be meant touching into self-compassion or at least trying to.


Like most of my fiction and memoir pieces, writing “Homeward Bound” involved a prolonged process of rewriting. I wrote it as a longer piece first, then over several months, I cut it down to its essence, making sure to keep a fresh eye by taking breaks from each draft.


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


Write. Write. Write. Read your words out loud. Find a writing group. Kill your darlings, but don’t give up on “bad” dialogue, exposition, plot, pacing, etc., too soon. Spending time with and understanding what doesn’t work is a teacher. So, yes, embrace critique—it’s a gift. And keep going. Your voice is unique. Your story matters. If you don’t believe that, who will?


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


The best is also the most challenging: honing and rewriting stories until they are submission-ready. There are no shortcuts.


- Lastly, do you recommend that writers submit to LISP?


Absolutely! It’s been a great experience.



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