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Fiona Dignan, London Independent Story Prize 2024 1st Competition, Short Story Finalist, 'A Woman of Substance'

London Independent Story Prize 2024 1st Competition, Short Story Finalist, 'A Woman of Substance' Fiona Dignan

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

My daily life generally consists of being a Jack of all trades, master of none! I’m a stay-at-home mum to four children, ranging between fourteen and five. I’m currently standing as a candidate for the Borough Council elections in May and I run a Shared Reading Group at my local library. I’m also a dog walker and have a regular slot on BBC Radio Berkshire. When I get a spare moment, I write poetry, flash and short stories.

 

- When and how did you get into writing?

Prior to 2020, I had only ever written creatively for English GCSE (a disturbingly long time ago). I started writing during lockdown to cope with the chaos of homeschooling three children and managing a destructive toddler. I began with spoken word poetry via Zoom and it developed from there. After lockdown eased, I joined my local writing group and the online literary community Retreat West where I learnt a love of writing small fiction.

 

I have been fortunate enough to be published in numerous publications, including Mslexia and Popshot, and won the 2023 London Society Poetry Prize and the Plaza Prize for Sudden Fiction. I was also a finalist in last year’s LISP poetry category. Towards the end of last year, I went back to my spoken word roots and won the 2023 Dreading Poetry Slam final. This year I’ve won the Farnham Flash Fiction Prize, The WestWord Photo Prompt Prize and was placed third in the Teignmouth Poetry Festival Prize. I am a finalist again in the London Society Prize and awaiting the awards ceremony, wish me luck!

 

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

I write in sporadic spurts. I am an early riser and will often write around 5am before the children wake up. During the Easter holidays, things have been more hectic, so I tend to scribble in the notes section of my home and hope I find time to put it together later. I have begun writing in tune with my menstrual cycle. I tend to be more energetic and creative in the first two weeks of my cycle so I cram my writing into these weeks and read/edit during the later part of my cycle, when I’m grumpier and more likely to read my work with a critical eye. I appreciate this method of writing is not applicable to lots of people, but I believe everyone has natural body rhythms that we should tap into.

 

I take my inspiration wherever I can find it. It can be an overheard snippet of conversation, a news story or a piece of art, graffiti, advert etc. Writing helps me see the world, even the mundane, as a place of enchantment.

 

- How does it feel to have your work recognised ?

It feels amazing to have your writing read by others and for people to connect to it. It gives me the sense of being heard and validated. However, I think writers don’t talk about rejection enough. With the success comes many more rejections and it’s important to remember your worth (and your writing) is not tied to winning or publication. 

 

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

The best and worst part of writing is the blank sheet. It holds a myriad of possibilities. Beginning to set down the shape of your poem, feels an act of creation, bringing forth something from nothing. However, the blank page can also be intimidating, especially when you’re low on creativity. I try to get something down, even just a series of words to mark the blankness. At least you then have a first draft to begin to knead into form.

 

It’s also hard to know when a story is finished (is it ever?) I could endlessly rework my writing and perhaps continually editing and adapting old work as you grow is part of being a writer.

 

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?

My story started out as a microfiction based around the theme of rain. However, I begun to hear the characters’ voices and knew this was a much longer story than 100 words. I have always been interested in mother/daughter relationships and the weight of inheritance. However, this is my first foray into magical realism and I enjoyed feeling unleashed from the constraints of reality. I would say it took me a few hours to write but a lot longer to edit. I tend to write quickly and then leave a few weeks before going back and editing. I find I need some time and space away from a story before I can edit it with a critical eye.

 

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

Write what you love and how you love to write. Nobody else has your voice and experiences, so develop your own particular style and write about the topics you want to. Authenticity is a kind of magic.

 

Look for inspiration everywhere. Seek out new experiences. If you are open, stories will find you.

 

Carry a writers’ notepad everywhere so when you do stumble across inspiration, you can pop it down. This doesn’t need to be a beautiful leather-bound notepad, I use the note section on my phone. Far less arty, far more convenient!

I love looking through disparate notes and noticing what themes and images I’m drawn to.

 

Join a writing network to support you and offer constructive feedback. There are many local and online groups. I have a group of three writers I met through last year’s LISP prize, we use Discord to send each other drafts for feedback.

 

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

The best thing about entering competitions is it forces you to work to a deadline. It’s easy to procrastinate and put off writing and editing but a deadline focuses your mind. The worst thing for me is the sense of vulnerability it gives you. You are sharing your work, often personal, for judgement. However, the very act of being vulnerable and doing it anyway is a great achievement, regardless of the outcome.

 

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

Absolutely. To use a sporting cliche, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.


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