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Gina Challen, LISP 2023 Short Story Finalist, 'Nuisance Calls'

LISP 2023 Short Story Finalist 'Nuisance Calls' by Gina Challen

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

I moved to West Sussex from London in 1979 and have made the South Downs my home. The rolling hills and coastal plain have stolen my heart and I’m now more ‘country’ than ‘city.’ I put down roots and this is where I now belong. Most days, I walk my two border collies on the hills and through the woods and consider myself very fortunate to do this. Like most of us, I wear many hats: daughter, mother and grandmother, dog owner, writer and, until 2020, insurance broker.

- When and how did you get into writing?

In 2009, as a very mature student, I began a BA in English and Creative Writing at the University of Chichester and continued with a Masters in Creative Writing. I loved my time there and have maintained strong links with the University. I am very aware, how late I came to the writing ‘game’ and this drives me. My work can be found in various anthologies and online. Two stories were shortlisted for the prestigious Bridport Prize and in 2018 a further story was longlisted for the RSL, V S Pritchett Prize. In 2021, I was a finalist in the London Independent Story Prize. My critical essays are online at the Thresholds Short Story Forum. My debut collection of short stories, Chalk Tracks, was published by Valley Press in July 2019.

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

I try and write three days a week but this is very moveable as very often life gets in the way! Sometimes, if the words aren’t there, I read instead. There can be no doubt that the landscape of the South Downs is the inspiration for my work. However, as my stories show, there are places beyond the picturesque sentimentality of gently rolling chalk hills and woods, shadowed places, where pathways are flayed bare by rain, flint is exposed, brambles snarl, villages splinter and rural life takes its last shuddering breath. These are the places I tend to visit in my writing, which, I admit, sounds quite bleak!

- How does it feel to have your work recognised?

It’s always wonderful to have a piece of work recognised in competitions and ultimately published. For me, it feels good to know that others have enjoyed my words. Writing is a lonely occupation and recognition makes it less so.

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

Without a doubt, the blank page is the most challenging part of writing. Where to start the story? What is the start of the story? Only I can decide. Help!

- 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?

‘Nuisance Calls’ takes it’s framework from my daily walks with the dogs. I used this framework to ‘hang’ the story of a daughter’s struggle with an aging mother. Many of the other details came from my own experience and conversations with friends in similar situations. It’s a blend of truth and fiction.

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

It’s difficult to give tips on writing as we all have our own approach. For a short story, editing is paramount. Make all the words count towards the whole. If they aren’t pushing the story forward, cut them. I will pass on a piece of writing advice given to me my by eight year old granddaughter, ‘use strong verbs, Mamsie, then your stories will be alright.’ It’s good advice.

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

Competitions are a great way of putting your work out into the world. Often, it’s difficult to read the longlists and not see your own name, even dispiriting, but you have to shrug it off and keep trying.

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

Love LISP and definitely recommend entering to writers. The exposure it gives writers is second to none. This is my second time as a Finalist, so I speak as I find.



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