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Maria Thomas, LISP 2022 Flash Fiction LISP Finalist by 'The Things I Don't Say'

LISP 2022 Flash Fiction LISP Finalist, 'The Things I Don't Say' by Maria Thomas

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

I'm a 52-year-old mother of two - I have a 16-year-old Sonny who is a national swimming champion so my marshalling of his life revolves around school and swimming, and a 14-year-old daughter Effy who has a lot of interests, one of which is creative writing - she's way ahead of where I was at her age. I'm married to Ian who works in financial PR. I work as a Technical Control Manager for a large bank so, once I've got the kids out of the door, my day revolves around looking at controls to see if they're working effectively. I mostly work from home, but I do head into the City once a week or so. I love reading, cooking and the theatre. I dabble at art and I'm guiltily fond of skills-based reality TV shows, like Strictly, MasterChef and Sewing Bee. - When and how did you get into writing?

I've always wanted to write but, aside from writing restaurant reviews for a local free magazine, I had neither the opportunity, nor the confidence. During the first lockdown work reduced my hours to three days a week and, rather than drive my family crazy twiddling my thumbs, I signed up to a creative writing course via FutureLearn. I LOVED it. From there I joined a few writing groups - SWF, Retreat West and Writers HQ - discovered flash fiction and have never looked back.

I've had a few pieces published this year in various literary zines and websites. I won Retreat West's Monthly Micro competition in April, and I was shortlisted by Oxford Flash Fiction Prize, with my story ‘Let's Say’ published in their anthology ‘May Break Your Bones’. I recently won second place in the annual Propelling Pencil competition, which raises money for the Trussell Trust, with ‘Climbing the Gloucester Tree, Pemberton, WA’. I was longlisted by Reflex Fiction in their Q3 competition with my story ‘The Cruelty of Summer – 1976’, and shortlisted by both Retreat West and Flash 500 in quarterly competitions.

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

I probably write four or five times a week, but a lot is about when inspiration strikes. I participate in weekly flash events - Writers HQ Flash Face Off, and Retreat West Friday Flashing. I often have ideas in the middle of the night, and can often be found sitting in the bathroom typing an idea into my phone. I don't really have a routine, just write when I can.

I've completed a few courses - Fantastic Flashing with Retreat West and one of Matt Kendrick's Write Beyond the Lightbulb course, and I've attended a couple of virtual flash festivals.

Inspiration can come from anything – I’m writing a lot of stories at the moment based on a music playlist I listen to when I can’t sleep at night. I’ve written stories based on songs by PJ Harvey, Minnie Riperton, Duran Duran, John Denver, Arcade Fire, Miley Cyrus and Fleetwood Mac!

- How does it feel to have your work recognised?

It's the most amazing feeling being recognised either by being featured in a publication or by a competition placing. I really want to get my work out there, want people to read my stories and hopefully love them. I recently watched a colleague read one of my stories and saw tears spring into her eyes with the emotion of it, and that was an incredible feeling - that I inspired that response in her.

It's a wonderful thing and rather addictive.

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

It's so satisfying when the story flows. Sometimes an idea will come from an image, or a memory or a phrase. Sometimes it feels like the story just pours out of me. Other times it's more like niggling away at variations of an idea until something clicks. Some stories never quite get there, but when you know it's a good one it's brilliant.

The most challenging areas for me are titles - I really struggle with them - and dialogue, which I sometimes find hard to make convincing. I've been trying to write more stories with a distinctive voice, but I find it so difficult

- 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?

The original idea came from a photo prompt on the Retreat West Fantastic Flashing 2 course - it was a photograph of a crowded beach.

In 2013 a friend took my then 7-year-old son to France where she lived for an extended break without us. I spent the whole time without him thinking of implausible ways he could be hurt, and I read a newspaper article about sand collapsing under people digging and burying them alive. To the merriment of my colleagues, I rang my friend, and she told me that she was already looking out for it. Us mothers have all bases covered!

It's something that has clearly played on my mind as, when I saw the photo, this was the story that came to mind. It’s more than a story about a sand collapse though – it’s about the things we leave unsaid, the spaces between what we do say and what we should say or could say. At the time I was writing a lot about language and the words that we choose, and it’s still something I’m fascinated by today.

I wrote the original of the story in November 2021. It arrived almost perfectly formed, but I continued to tweak it until I submitted it to LISP in May 2022.

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

My best ideas come in the witching hours so I would say always have something close by where you can record ideas – I type into the Notes app on my phone but that might not work for everyone.

Get your first draft on paper, even if it’s not flowing well. A lot of the magic comes in the editing.

Find yourself a good set of Beta readers who will be honest but not crushing. I’m part of a group of four and collectively we’ve all improved each other’s writing and buoyed each other up during the lows.

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

The best thing is progressing beyond where you expected. It’s quite an adrenalin hit to get that shortlist or finalist nod or placing.

The most challenging thing is picking yourself back up after the disappointment of not getting anywhere with a story you believe in. What you need to remember is that maybe that story wasn’t right on that day for that reader, but someone else may love it. As they say on Strictly “Keep dancing!”

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

Absolutely submit, submit, submit. The boost in confidence I’ve received from being named a finalist has been a wonderful end to an interesting year. You’ve got to be in it to win it right?



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