Ian Plenderleith, LISP Short Story Semi-Finalist
Can you please tell us about you? Where do you live and how is your daily life?
I'm a freelance writer and journalist living in Frankfurt, but I also work as a football trainer and referee to get me out of the house. Writing is a lonely profession, and it's easy to spend way too much time sitting at your computer - my ideas come mainly when I'm somewhere far away from my office. I try and write every day, usually during the mornings when the rest of the family has gone to work. Sometimes I'll go to a cafe in the afternoons because shutting out the noise around me lets me into a mental zone where I'm really productive. I'm not sure why.
When did you start writing? How often do you write?
I started writing in my 20s, when I still had a full-time job. I had more time to write when I became a house-dad in the late 90s, and one of my short stories won second prize in an Observer competition, which gave me a real boost. I had a book of short stories called 'For Whom the Ball Rolls' published by Orion Books in 2001. It's a curious collection. Half the stories are based around football, half are not. The editor who had the courage to take me on was never allowed to commission fiction again. No one seemed to know how to market it or even which section of the book shop to file it. No publisher would touch something like that nowadays.
How did you feel when you learned that you are a Semi-Finalist on The London Independent Story Prize?
Every writer craves recognition. When you're swimming up the river of rejection - from agents, publishers and competitions - then a sign from beyond that someone you don't know has read your work and enjoyed it is worth more than a bathtub of diamonds (apologies for the shoddy metaphors).
What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing a short story?
The best part is that second when you have an idea for a story, scribbling it down on a scrap of paper, or - nowadays - frantically thumbing it in to your smartphone 'Notes' before you forget it. I love rushing through a first draft too. The hard work comes when you refine and re-write. I used to be too lazy to do this and would send out sub-standard work. Now I can re-draft a story 10-15 times before I'm happy with it.
How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected story? Is there a story behind your story?
'Aim High' is part of a cycle of stories I'm working on that are all set in the 70s/early 80s in my home town of Market Rasen, in Lincolnshire. Most of them are loosely based on events and people from the time. 'Aim High' is typical in that it starts with an event that actually happened, then fiction steals that event and runs off with it (and probably violates and corrupts it in the process).
Can you please give us a few tips about writing a 1500-word short story story?
I tend to over-write in first drafts, so my advice would be - don't overthink the word count when you start writing. You can always make cuts. You may think your prose is too precious to cut, but it's not.
What's the best thing about writing competitions?
The obvious answer is winning, but that's not the correct one. When publishers will barely touch story collections, and your agent tells you, "I can send them to ten editors if you want, but I know what the answer will be," then competitions are one of the few outlets where you feel that someone may take the time to read your work. Last year I made the final of the Scottish Arts Trust Short Story award - they told us that the stories were judged by a series of panels, and that each story in the final had been read by around 40 different people. To know that a decent portion of those people evaluated and likely enjoyed your work re-fuels your will to sit down and keep writing.
The other thing I like about competitions is that they drive you to produce better work. You might re-read a story you entered in a previous competition, and suddenly you realise why it didn't work (and are mortified that you didn't take more care with it). I have one particular story that I’m really fond of that I've probably entered in about a dozen competitions down the years, without a sniff of success. Yet every year I dust it off and have another go at it. Though, I have to admit, it's a bleak one.
Lastly, do you recommend that writers give it a go on LISP?
Of course. Everyone should write, just as everyone should read.