Jose Varghese, Short Story Finalist, LISP 2nd Quarter 2020
- Can you please tell us about your daily life?
I teach English as a Second Language in a Saudi university these days, after some years of teaching literature and critical theories in a few colleges in India. I’ve always managed to squeeze in some creative writing elements in whatever levels I teach. I happen to edit a couple of literary journals too. As for my time away from work, there is never a set daily pattern, and that works good for me. I approach each day with a lot of curiosity, expecting it to be filled with surprising possibilities. There are those rare occasions when I’m out of my depth, but on other less calamitous days that allow me some control over the things I do, there’s always a lot of music, books, movies and conversations. Exciting ideas float in the air too, ready to claim their space on some blank sheets.
- When did you start writing? How often do you write?
I am bilingual and started writing from age seven. I had continuously won prizes at school for versification and story writing. I knew that it was not a big deal because I studied in a tiny school at a tiny village, and in most cases I just had to respond to writing prompts that were far from challenging. But it was great to know that someone read what I wrote and gave it some recognition. There were summer camps too, and I wrote little plays that I would direct and perform with my friends there. Those were usually about social and environmental issues. Later on, I acted in some plays for bigger inter-school competitions. They were very successful, often directed by people who liked to experiment with some avant-garde elements of street plays, agit-prop, or epic theatre, breaking the fourth wall and so on. I was often invited to rewrite or modify some scripts to suit specific situations or to showcase the talent of certain actors. This kind of exposure at an impressionable age must have nurtured the storytelling trait in me. However, my creative engagement with language and more complex ideas must have taken shape when I was in my twenties, inspired by a couple of teachers and the books that I read.
My first book, Silver Painted Gandhi and Other Poems, was published in 2008. A new collection of poems is scheduled for publication in early 2021. My poems and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in journals/anthologies like Meridian: The APWT Drunken Boat Anthology of New Writing, The Best Asian Short Story Anthology 2019, Dreich, The Salt Anthology of New Writing 2013, Unthology 5, Unveiled, Chandrabhaga, Kavya Bharati, Postcolonial Text , I Am Not A Silent Poet, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis and Flash Fiction Magazine.
I was a finalist in the Beverly International Prize 2018 for my short story manuscript In/Sane, a runner up in Faber Academy's QuickFic competitions and the Salt Flash Fiction Prize 2013, a finalist in the Eyewear Fortnight Poetry Prize competitions, and a second prize winner in the Wordweavers Flash Fiction Prize 2012. I was also shortlisted in Hourglass Short Story Contest and was commended in Gregory O'Donoghue International Poetry Prize 2014.
- How does it feel to have your work recognised?
It’s an uplifting experience, especially in testing times like these. It’s a great relief that one can turn inwards and create something beautiful in any situation. I have developed a fondness for rejection and failure over the years so that everything can be turned into an opportunity to invest in more learning, to ‘fail better’! That way, even small recognitions bring in a lot of joy and contentment.
- What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing a Short Story?
The best thing is that one can write a story in a weekend, or at least in a week’s time. If everything falls into place, it can reach a large number of readers too. Every time I scribble down a well-thought-out last sentence, I congratulate myself and go for a cuppa . Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised to see that a short story has the potential to be developed into a novel. The hardest thing is that it’s such a specialized area now that writers and readers are getting conscious of certain styles and genres. There are a lot of expectations and it’s not an easy task to get everything right in that context, despite hours of work on all the story elements. Some stories are simply meant to take flight and resonate with readers across cultures, but some inevitably fail to work out that magic.
- 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?
I am working on a novel with a few characters who belong to the sexual minorities of India. I had to focus on the discrimination they face, and kept on writing, rewriting, and discarding scenes endlessly. ‘Contretemps’ is in fact something that I developed from such a discarded scene. I have witnessed a lot of events in Indian buses from my childhood years, and the daily drama, conflicts and power-plays that evolve in the span of a journey in crowded buses have always fascinated me.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a 1500-word short story?
I’m all for breaking the rules, but for practical purposes, I try to stick to one or two main characters and an event with some unavoidable conflict for a story of this length. I also try to keep the past and present in a tight knot and give a natural pace to the main course of action. Once we decide on the order in which the scenes are to be put together, it becomes easy to show what the main characters think, do, or say.
- What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing competitions?
The best thing is the possibility of winning and all the excitement that follows, leading to more good writing. As I mentioned earlier, failures and rejections can also have a good effect, if we’re willing to learn something from the winning stories. The hardest thing for me is meeting the deadlines.
-Lastly, do you recommend the writers to give it a go on flash fiction story and LISP?
Of course! I had been following LISP for a while and had always found the stories here to be of very high quality. This was my first submission to LISP and am truly humbled to be among the immensely talented writers and artists. It’s indeed great exposure, for beginners and established writers alike.