LISP 4th Quarter 2020 Official Selection, Short Story, 'Of Sharks and Jellyfish' by Carol J Forrester
Can you please tell us about your daily life?
I currently work full time as an Accounts Payable Clerk in a finance department, but my free time is spent working on poems, short stories, and entries for my blog. I live in Crewe with my husband, and our koi. I would have preferred a dog, but the choices were koi, or more koi, so fish it was. I’m a member of the local judo club, and pre-pandemic I attended a number of monthly writing and arts events in the local area. Hopefully post-pandemic those events will be able to start up again.
When did you start writing? How often do you write?
When I was around six/seven years old, my primary school teacher had the class write short stories. It sparked a life-long obsession, and after that I wrote avidly, apparently bringing in the stories I’d written at home to show her each day. I reconnected with her a few years ago and she still remembers those stories, and was every bit as supportive of my writing now and she was back then. It’s a testament to the importance of teachers when it comes to shaping young minds, and helping them find their way.
My writing schedule fluctuates, and especially over the last year my output had dropped significantly. One friend referred to it as re-filling the well. The more your produce, the more you take out of that well, and then you need to take time to refill it through new experiences and connections. Unfortunately that’s less easily achieved when the country is in lockdown. In more normal circumstances I would be writing three or four poems a week, and a new short story, or flash fiction piece every few months, but when the environment doesn’t change much it’s difficult to find something new to write about.
I took part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year and managed just over 60,000 words during November which certainly brought up my word count average for the year, and I try to take part in NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month – April) each year, especially if I haven’t been writing as much as I would like to.
I’ve had poems published by ‘The Daily Drunk’, ‘Ink Sweat & Tears’, ‘The Drabble’ and my poetry collection ‘It’s All In The Blood’ came out in 2019. I spend a lot of time sharing my poems and stories on my personal blog www.caroljforrester.com, as well as the odd post about history and random happenings in my life. My mother has often told me that my best works are the personal ones, though she seems less impressed when she shows up in them.
How does it feel to have your work recognised?
It often feels like the biggest part of writing is working through the endless flow of rejections that comes with entering competitions and submitting to journals. It can get disheartening, so when the odd moment of recognition does slip in between those emails claiming ‘we enjoyed your work, but it’s not quite what we’re looking for at the moment’ it makes it seem worth it. It’s a reminder that ‘yes, you are capable of doing this’ and that there are people that it’s not pure madness to keep going.
What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing a Short Story?
The best bit about writing a short story is getting to distil an idea down to its sharpest elements, and unlike a novel you can write a draft start to finish within a single day (or two or three depending on story length and free time). The shorter word-count forces you to be ruthless with your choices, while also allowing for anything to happen within the story itself.
The shorter word-count is also, most often, the hardest thing about writing a short story. It’s important to still craft a full narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Too often it can be tempting to leave off on a cliff-hanger or a dramatic ‘gotcher’ moment in the last line to make up for the fact that you ran out of words.
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 entry for LISP was actually a story I’d written for something else, then realised it didn’t fit the criteria requested. It got chucked into a folder to languish until I stumbled upon LISP and thought ‘I might have something that could work for this’. After being abandoned for over a year I blew the cobwebs off the document and put it through some quite significant revisions before submitting it. You can either say I let the idea mature, or fester for twelve months while I decided what on earth I was going to do with it.
Can you please give us a few tips about writing a short story?
Bullet point plans are helpful. Even though you’re not working on a novel, it’s a good idea to have some clue as to where the story is going to end up, and how you are going to get there. Also, as mentioned above, don’t be too worried about letting something sit for a while before going back to it. First drafts are supposed to be horrific, terrifying things that look like they just crawled out from the shadows. That is why we have redrafts, it’s like beast-taming for stories.
What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing competitions?
I’m not entirely sure what I’d say the best thing about writing competitions is. They make for good targets, especially for those like myself who like to procrastinate. If I’ve decided to enter a competition then the deadline will give me that extra push to make sure I finish whatever it is I’m working on.
The hardest thing is almost certainly the ones where you’ve waited for months for a short list to come out, only to receive the email that lets you know you’ve not been selected. There’s always a moment where I think ‘oh, maybe,’ then I open it and realise it’s not to be. Except in this case. In this case I got to do my celebration dance and confuse my husband as to why I was happy.
Lastly, do you recommend the writers to give it a go on LISP?
Yes! Even if entering doesn’t go anywhere, you still have a piece of work that you can go back and work on some more. I love the Neil Gaiman quote that ‘you learn far more from the things you complete, then the things you don’t.’ It’s very easy to sit in our little bubbles and tell ourselves that there’s no point, or we wouldn’t be good enough, but we don’t actually know until we try. If you make the effort and give it a go then you will always learn something from the experience, which means it’s never really a loss.