LISP 2022 Flash Fiction LISP Finalist 'How to Disappear' by Debra Waters
Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?
I'm a freelance features writer for women's magazines, so I write for a living, although lifestyle journalism is very different to creative writing – I wear different hats for each and it can take time to switch between the two.
When and how did you get into writing?
I've always loved writing – it's what I was best at at school and I studied English Literature and Theatre at university. But it wasn't until I decided to do an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths (in my forties) that I started to prioritise it. Since graduating three years ago I've won the Bridport Short Story Prize (2020) and I've been shortlisted/highly commended for seven competitions (including the Bath Short Story Award) and longlisted for eight others, which is really heartening.
How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?
I don't have a writing routine, but I've realised that as a working mum I need one, so I plan to make 2023 the year I become organised. I used to rely on being inspired – it felt forced to write otherwise – but I'm not going to get the words down if I wait for inspiration to strike, so I plan to carve out two mornings a week that is writing time only (no procrastination allowed – including random hoovering, social media, or wandering aimlessly around the house!)
Every year, I do a couple of online courses such as the brilliant ones run by London Lit Labs, and I'm part of a writing group from my MA days (we meet fortnightly on Zoom). I go to writers' talks too, because I find these fire me up. And I try to do a few one-day writing retreats, such as the ones run by Urban Writers' Retreat and Writer's HQ. These help me focus.
In terms of what inspires me to write – it's mainly people and knowing (or imagining) their lives. But I'm also drawn to history, psychology, health, unusual facts and even quite fey subjects – these all influence my writing.
How does it feel to have your work recognised?
It's a boon to be recognised, and feels like a step in the right direction. It helps with my confidence. But each rejection still smarts, and that's hard to get used to (us writers are a thin-skinned lot), so I limit the amount of competitions I enter.
What's the most challenging thing about writing a story?
Finding the time, peace and quiet to get the words down! And I'm easily distracted. I also tend to edit as I go, which can slow the flow. I'm hoping to write longer pieces but short-form comes more naturally to me (though that could be because my focus is scattered!)
What's the best thing about writing a story?
There's nothing quite like it when I finish a story. The sense of quiet achievement I feel is addictive. It gives me a sense of self and purpose. Equally, when a story isn't working, it's frustrating – I can get pretty down about it.
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?
I write a lot about women's health for my job and I'd read that eating disorders, such as anorexia, are on the rise in older women. Also, as a middle-aged woman, I was becoming more aware of how women of a certain age become 'invisible'. These are two subjects I'm fascinated by so I wrote 'How to disappear' with these issues in mind. The protagonist stops eating as an (irrational) form of revenge, but it's also an understandable reaction to the pressures of being female. Even in the modern world she's judged for her passions or appetites.
Can you please give us a few tips about writing a story
Write what you want to read. I write about what interests me then hope it will interest others! And edit – 'kill your darlings', so to speak. If a word or line feels clunky, be prepared to let it go. If you're not sure about it, the chances are others won't be, too.
What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions?
The best thing is that competitions are somewhere to potentially get recognition, and where (especially unpublished) writers can get their work out. Competitions can help writers get something down by giving them deadlines, and also give writers an idea about what others are writing. The downside is the cost – totally understandable that these costs are required but entering five competitions a month can cost £40+. This adds up.
What's important to remember (and I have to regularly remind myself this) is that not being longlisted, shortlisted or winning doesn't mean your work isn't good – I entered my winning Bridport Story 'Oh Hululu' to a few competitions before it got picked up. This can be an opportunity to refine a piece of work.
Lastly, do you recommend the writers submit their stories to LISP?
Absolutely. Even if writers don't get mentioned, by participating they are part of a network of writers – part of a community. It helps to realise you're not alone.