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Emma Faye Robdale, London Independent Story Prize 2024 1st Competition Flash Fiction Finalist 'Morgan Le Fay'

London Independent Story Prize 2024 1st Competition Flash Fiction Finalist 'Morgan Le Fay' by Emma Faye Robdale

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

I'm currently trying to finish my Drama by Practice PHD in Neurodivergent+ Aesthetics within Creative Writing and Performance. It's taken me a lot longer than I thought! The 'pre-PhD me' used to love travelling, dancing, and exploring anything and anywhere! However, the almost post-PHD me is tired, lethargic, drained, addicted to terrible TV series and broke!!! Hopefully, I'll get a bit more of my pizzazz back when it's done!  

 

- When and how did you get into writing?

I've always enjoyed writing... I'm dyslexic and used to get told I wasn't very good at it. When I finished secondary school, I was so happy to discover I could undergo a degree in Creative Writing (not English or Literature), as making and creating stories have always been part of my lifeblood! The first competition I won was Creative Future's flash fiction in 2017,  with an entry entitled 'Snail Abortion', which you can watch me perform: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRPIaPqdn78. My confidence grew and I became more experimental in my writing styles and managed to get another short published in Mistake House, 'Woman Gives Birth' (https://mistakehouse.org/article/woman-gives-birth/). I was living in Brighton and began to get more into the spoken word and performance scene of slam poetry and competed at nights such as Hammer and Tongue, this earned me a spot as a warm-up act with poet Laureate Caral Anne Duffy! It was in Brighton that I began working as a freelance journalist for Disability Arts Online, interviewing Neurodivergent+ artists on their creative practices; if you'd like to read some of these, you can visit my author page at https://disabilityarts.online/blog/author/emma-robdale/


I currently live in Canterbury, where for the past three years, I have been running my own ACE-funded Neurodivergent+ Performance night, 'MixMatched', if you'd like to find out more about us you can on our website: https://mixmatched.co.uk/. My writing practice has been inspired by the things that are around me; I try to dive into all opportunities that come my way! I think, due to being Neurodivergent+/having OCD, I can become transfixed by certain things and feel a deep need to explore them through creative practices; after visiting the Vagina Museum in London, I painted 45 surrealist pictures of vaginas (in a week!), and this led to a lot of writing/poetry, some of which can be viewed on my blog: https://emmarobdalestoriesandpoetry.wordpress.com/2021/07/11/wominescent/ you can also read a review of the exhibition https://disabilityarts.online/magazine/opinion/emma-robdale-shares-wombinescent/. Regarding MixMatched arts collective,  we seek to build an appreciation of Neurodivergent+ culture, community and creativity; this year we've collected together 8 short stories, all by Neurodivergent+ (Autistic and ADHD) authors, and we are putting them into an anthology called 'Atypical Love'; one of Atypical Love's purposes is to challenge existing stereotypes surrounding Neurodivergent+ individuals and romantic relationships; the anthology will be published sometime this year, you can keep up to date on this project via MixMatched website: https://mixmatched.co.uk/projects-literature/


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

I used to write creatively very often, around once a week. But, over the last few years, I have put so much focus into my PHD and getting MixMatched (the Neurodivergent+ Arts Collective I co-run) off the ground that I have had much less time/energy for writing creatively.  Before starting my PHD I was working as an English lecturer in Thailand, and, on the weekends, I did a lot of travelling, hiking, and cave exploring (as well as partying!). Generally, when I'm happy/doing something I enjoy, a story appears to me. I also paint surrealist pictures, and these images often inspire stories I want to write. It has been really helpful both running and going to writing workshops, as, through a range of activities and bouncing off other creatives, you can find new avenues and sources for ideas that would not have 'naturally' occurred to you. I personally just try and keep my eyes/ears open for things that draw me in, they tend to expand in my brain; for me, just starting with short descriptive pieces/flash-fiction pieces about things I enjoy/fascinate me often leads me to expand upon ideas and create longer more intricate pieces. The hardest part about writing, for me, can often be finding the energy between being burned-out and exhausted from work; but when I find the inspiration, I just write and write and write!  (I once wrote a whole novel in a week!)... which then often ends in me being burned-out/exhausted! I'm not great at moderation. 

 

- How does it feel to have your work recognised?

Amazing and exhausting! - Normally, the amount of perfectionism that has taken me to get something to a level I think I can send it off completely wipes me out!  Obviously, seeing my work published, especially in print, is very exciting. So many of my stories 'die' within the recesses of my laptop (and I forget all about them...or they get lost!). Often, I write for the love of writing... and then just move on to the next thing I want to write about. But this year I'm really trying to make a concerted effort to 'revive' some of these writing pieces and send them to places/competitions... which is how I ended up submitting to LISP! 

 

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

For me the best thing is reading it back afterwards and really feeling as if you have captured something in its complexity; for me, I see writing to be the closest we can get to telepathy, in terms of giving/placing ideas and concepts into the minds of others. There's something magical about envisaging a story, out of nothing, bringing it into life/reality within writing....and then being able to give it to someone else who can then feel, see and relate to it as well. I think the hardest/most challenging thing about writing is to transfer emotion, not just into your characters or narrator, but be able to move the person/people who go on to read it; you have the whole scope of existence to draw upon, and, it is completely free! - You just need to feel/work out the right ways in which to say it. And, if you can pull it off, you may create something that will stay with someone for a lifetime. With empathy, inquisition, imagination, pizzazz, and flare (and a bit of luck!) you may be able to create your own little piece of history!

Oh ... end editing, it is so necessary to edit for someone to be able to 'see' your story properly; you need to trust that your writing gives a picture/impression of things which are 'unsaid' - but it is so hard to avoid the temptation to write more, to write exactly how you want the piece to be read. Cutting and editing I actually find quite emotionally draining... and often painful! 


-  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 attend events by an arts collective for Neurodivergent+ women called, 'Magical Woman' (run by Elinor Rowlands), part of her ethos/perspective in running 'Magical Woman' is that, historically Neurodivergent+ women, who would have likely experienced mental health difficulties, were vulnerable of being accused of witchcraft, and faced persecution (and, ultimately death, sometimes death by fire) Today, by forming pockets of Neurodivergent+ female-friendly groups, we have a chance to claim back some of that magic, with less fear of persecution (hopefully). I drew from the sentiment of Magical Woman collective, regarding spirituality, persecution, and the reclaiming of magic through understanding and solidarity. This is part of the inspiration for 'Morgan Le Fay'...

The other was bonfire night; when everyone else had gone to bed, I stayed to watch the fire go down (rather than putting it out) and became transfixed by its flames. I got out my writing book and began describing. Similarly, later that month, I went on a camping trip, and again, I was left transfixed by fire, which I also wrote about. Flames took root in my imagination. There is something so enticing and primal about fire - its colour, movement, symbolism, warmth, ability to destroy... connotation with witches. I pondered upon how the experience of watching fire was universal, existing across all periods and historical eras, captivating imaginations throughout time. And, over the next month, I created several short stories, paintings and poetry inspired by my lone fireside musings. The flash-fiction piece 'Morgan La Fay', selected by LISP,  was an amalgamation of my favourite fire descriptions weaved together; the more poetical style took inspiration from witchcraft association to spells and chanting. 

 

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

I can't speak for others, but this is how I write... 


Find something that takes your eye/fascinates you, it could be an iridescent bug, or a fact about ancient Egypt, something cute that your pet is doing, just something that made you think twice at the end of the day...  Write it first, just how you thought about it. Think about why it interested you/kept your gaze in the first place, and try to capture that within your descriptions. And then you've got something. Something that you find fascinating. And, for me, it's then easy to redraft and/or adapt it into something else, something longer, or part of a bigger story. For me, what is important, is to find ways that allow your body/mind/spirit to channel the wonderful/strange/spooky/hilarious thing you experienced, put it into words... words that will permit others to see/feel/taste what you experienced (not just read about it).

 

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

'Feeling judged!' is the most challenging thing for me and, never hearing back. Feeling as if your words... which have taken you AAAGES to get just right, have been lost to the ether. Wondering if it's worth trying again. Feeling as if you're not good enough. I guess there is no full/easy remedy to this. But, it might be good to comprehend that your writing has worth even if its never published. And perhaps, to keep in mind that, even if your piece truly is an absolute work of art, for a lot of contests, it simply depends upon what certain judge likes/is looking for. When you enter a competition you need to envisage it being intermingled with lots of other great, fantastical, eloquent pieces... and, if you really concentrate on this, rather than your piece 'not being good enough', it is simply that other pieces were good too. I believe that all 'us' artistic types are often prone to extreme rejection sensitivities... and letting damaged egos get the better of us! 

 

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

GO FOR IT! Go for all the competitions that are a good fit for your piece. - I'd say, when it comes to this sort of thing, fire many arrows and hope something lands! - But, don't just send one arrow out and stop/become disheartened because it didn't fit within one particular target. Personally, I am interested in new writing/experimental writing (and how/why some Neurodivergent+ writing can be differently experimental... which is what my PhD is on!) and for these reasons, LISP seemed like it could be a perfect fit. - and I'm really glad to have got this far! 


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