Joe Howsin, Short Story Finalist
- Can you please tell us about you? Where do you live and how is your daily life?
I was born, and grew up, in Leicester, but I’ve lived in Manchester for the past year
studying for my Master’s in English and Gothic literature at Manchester Metropolitan.
Now that I’m here, I plan to stay. I spend most of my time reading and writing my
master’s dissertation alongside my girlfriend who is doing the same (we met on the
course). Soon, I’ll hopefully start my job working for a charity which supports
- When did you start writing? How often do you write? We
want to learn all about your writing life!
The first (very, very, bad) story I wrote was in year 5, when we were set a task to
write a short story for primary school. From what I can remember I wrote something
about ancient Greek monsters because I had watched my older brother play the PS2 game God of War. The story most likely was inappropriately violent as a result, but I
found it amazing fun and (being bad at football) I found that as I got older, I spent
more and more of my time writing stories and reading Gothic and horror novels. I
now write something almost every day, but only manage to finish a complete story
about once a month. This year I’ve found a lot of enjoyment in writing papers for
academic conferences, one of which is up on The Dark Arts Journal.
- How did you feel when you learned that you are a Finalist on The London
Independent Story Prize? How does it feel to have your work recognised?
My girlfriend was the one who spied my name on twitter and came across the room
to tell me the good news. I freaked out and almost had a panic attack because I can’t
accept good news like a normal person. It was so shocking, and I felt so unworthy of
the recognition. Now I’ve had a little more time to get used to the idea I’m just
immensely thankful that someone got some kind of enjoyment out of my writing.
- What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing a Short Story?
The hardest thing is writing a story which feels completely honest. Sometimes I’ll
come up with a concept I think is interesting but find that I’m just not the right person
to tell this particular story. It’s very cliché to say ‘write what you know’ but in a way
it’s true. I’ve never encountered any real ghosts (yet) but when I write a story with a
ghost in it, I need to feel like it belongs there, that it’s doing something interesting,
and that it’s saying what I want it to say. That’s also the best thing about writing a
story, sometimes it can get away from you and you end up with something you didn’t
expect. That’s always a wonderful surprise.
- How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected story? Is there a story
behind your story? And how long have you been working on it?
My girlfriend and I were looking around an antiques shop while on a day out at
Hebden Bridge. These places always remind me of going to car boot sales with my
grandma, and they always make me feel like I’m an M.R. James protagonist about to
find something haunted. My girlfriend loves finding inscriptions people have written
on old books, and this shop had boxes and boxes of old photos, some of which had
writing on the back. We looked at them for a while and I started to imagine who the
people in the photographs were, which is when I first thought of my story. I like to
write by hand for my first drafts, so that night I wrote everything down in a stream
until I felt I was done. Then over the next few weeks I copied everything into a Word
doc and edited it from there.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a 1500-word short story?
Writing by hand first is a good way to get a first draft finished and get all your ideas
down on the page. Once you’ve got the skeleton of a story written down, you can
start to add to it, bit by bit. If you have an idea for what you want the story to be at
first, don’t be afraid to change that initial idea if the story feels like it’s going in a
different direction. These things tend to develop a life of their own, so just go with it.
- What's the best thing about writing competitions?
It took me a long time to enter a writing competition because I was always so afraid
of getting rejected. So just treating it as an excuse to read other people’s stories is
great. Of course, winning means really putting yourself out there, it feels like a very
vulnerable position to be in, knowing your work is being put under scrutiny, but just
knowing that someone got something out of it is a really great feeling.
-Lastly, do you recommend the writers to give it a go on 1500-Word Short Story and
Absolutely. Writing a short story is such a fun way to spend your time and having a
competition as an end goal can be really motivating if you’re just starting out or you’re in a