Edward Barnfield, Short Story Finalist, LISP 3rd Quarter 2020
- When did you start writing? How often do you write?
I think I’ve carried myself as a writer since primary school, but I really only started writing fiction properly in 2019. My wife encouraged me to take one of the Oxford University online courses in creative writing, and that kick-started everything. Since then I’ve tried to finish at least one piece a month – grabbing time early in the mornings, weekends or on the commute to work – and made myself submit pieces whenever possible. To date, my stories have been picked up by Lunate, The Short Story, Reflex Press, Leicester Writes, Communicate.ae, GoArchitect and Grindstone Literary – all of whom are fantastic – and now by London Independent Story Prize. I’m plodding away trying to build a collection and finish the longer, might-just-be-a-novel.
- How does it feel to have your work recognised?
Fantastic. It’s such a positive jolt to have something accepted and published. So far, there’s been a lot of lingering on longlists or submitting work and never hearing back, so there’s joy and relief when someone likes your stuff.
- How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected story? Is there a story behind your story?
It’s a story about work, about how the elements of a career – titles, roles and responsibilities, org charts – can be all-consuming but utterly ephemeral when you compare them to the factors that last and matter, like family and friendships. I find it interesting that the activity that represents such a high proportion of so many lives, going to a workplace five days a week, is comparatively under-represented in fiction. So, it’s really about that dynamic, filtered through contemporary concerns like the pandemic and #metoo.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a 1500-word short story?
I’m still learning, so ask your doctor before ingesting any of my tips, but my sense is: Write the thing first. Start with enough of a structure and theme so that you can push through to the conclusion and don’t worry how long/short it’s running. I view the first draft as packing a suitcase – cram everything in and worry about closing it later. Be ruthless in the edit. I think you can approach writing a story as a craftsperson, but your editing needs to have a wholesale mindset – every scene, character, emotion and joke represents a block of words lashed together to be delivered on consignment. A twist, for example, will eat a significant proportion of your 1,500 words. Ask yourself how much plot you need, or whether there’s a straighter way to tell the story. If you can combine characters, lose a description, cut dialogue, do it. Finally, write often and have different stories on the stove. It may be your fantastic opening is actually a great flash in disguise; your three-generation Moldovan family saga is a novella in waiting. Go back through stories that were submitted unsuccessfully and reshuffle them for another contest, another opportunity.
- What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing competitions?
The core thing is that you have to learn what kind of writer you are, and the only way to do that is by writing and sharing your work. I think competitions and journal submissions are a good way to navigate that territory. The most enjoyable element is the community, seeing names you know crop up in shortlists and following them through social media. There are three or four writers I keep seeing (who keep beating me) whose work is stunning, so tracking their development is a real privilege. Obviously, the hardest thing is losing, getting nowhere, but that’s part of the package.
- Lastly, do you recommend the writers to give it a go on LISP? Absolutely. It’s a really well-structured contest and there’s a lot of great work on there.