Jane Copland, LISP 2nd Half 2019 Longlisted Writer
-Can you please tell us about you? Where do you live and how is your daily life?
I’m a 35 year old New Zealander, former competitive swimmer and sometime hobby runner, who lives in Reading, Berkshire with my husband, five year old son and large German Shepherd. I came to the UK from the US, where I had attended university on a swimming scholarship.
My background is in digital marketing, largely by accident: I landed a job at a small Seattle marketing company called Moz straight out of university (I was the seventh or eighth employee; the company now employs 170 people). From there, I moved to work in London and have been in the UK for eleven years.
-When did you start writing?
I started writing aged 4, penning a short story about a rescue on a mountain. It was my first trip to the head mistress’s office, thankfully for a positive reason. Eighteen years later, I received an English degree from Washington State University with a focus in Creative Writing, but writing fiction went largely by the wayside when I started working in tech. I wrote a lot for my employers and on my own website (http://janecopland.com/) but I only started writing fiction again in earnest in 2019.
My only previous award or publication for fiction came in 2004 when my story “Courtenay Place, Two Sections Please” placed third in a competition for young New Zealanders and was published in the subsequent anthology.
-How did you feel when you learned that you won?
I’m on holiday in my native New Zealand so I received the email telling me that my story made the long list first thing in the morning. It’s 8am and you’ve made my day! I’ve put in a lot of work this year to hone both my short and longer-form writing skills, so this is a wonderful boost.
-What’s the best thing and the hardest thing about writing Flash-Fiction?
The best thing about this form is the cutting, succinct power you can inject into a piece this short. In my view, these stories are best when they’re powerful and direct, leaving the reader with a larger point to think about.
The hardest thing is also one of the best: trimming and cutting and “perfecting” a story to include the most important points using the fewest words. Taking a story whose word count is too high and cutting it down seems like a daunting task, but it almost always results in a better piece of work once you’ve done it.
-How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected story?
My story draws on one aspect of my experience as a woman speaking at tech conferences. The industry can be elitist and sexist, and I put up with a lot during my years as a public speaker and blogger. This year I’ve included a lot of these experiences in fiction, as I find it a very good way to explore and describe things that a lot of us have experienced. My story takes on the troubling phenomena of women speakers and writers uniformly receiving poorer audience scores and feedback, being rated on our looks, and being generally disrespected.
-Can you please give us a few tips about writing a 300-word flash fiction story?
Don’t obsess over the word count while you’re writing. All my best pieces were much too long after the first draft (this story was probably 600+ words). The act of reducing the word count also makes the writing much better, at least for me.
-What’s the best thing about writing competitions?
I love the challenge of writing to a requirement, whatever that requirement might be: word count, deadline, theme, or whatever sparks an idea or gives that extra motivational boost. One of my favourite pieces of my own writing (a 1,000 word story) was written on the back of a one-word prompt for a competition (the results of that competition have not been announced yet). When I was a teenager, my father used to give me these prompts, usually in the form of a story’s title, and my challenge was to write a 500 word story. “Courtenay Place, Two Sections Please” was the result of one of his prompts (the title is what we used to say when we’d get on the bus outside our home to travel into central Wellington).
In short, the challenge. From a recognition point of view, they are also key to people like me who are trying to build a portfolio and build a network in the industry.
And I absolutely recommend writers give LISP a go!