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MJ Harbottle, LISP 2nd Half 2021 Flash Fiction Finalist

LISP 2nd Half 2021 Flash Fiction Finalist, '21st October 1966: Slag'

by MJ Harbottle

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

I live in North Yorkshire, in James Herriott country, with my husband Mark and our rescue Jack Russell terrier, Hari. I teach law to university undergrads, which I love - my wonderful, lively students always keep me on my toes! I'm a keen gardener and we also have an allotment, which keeps us busy in the growing season. When time allows, I enjoy a bit of creative photo snapping, fly fishing, and some subversive cross-stitch on the side.

- When and how did you get into writing?

During the first lockdown in March 2020 when I signed up to an online beginners crime fiction writing course with the National Centre for Writing. It was run by the author Nicola Upson (Josephine Tey series) who encouraged me to continue writing afterwards. I'm currently doing a Flash Fiction Course with (oddly, my namesake) Mary-Jane Holmes which is both enlightening and very enjoyable. Since starting to write, I've been long/short-listed by Writers on the Edge, long-listed and short listed by The Staunch Book Prize a couple of times, been placed 3rd by Shady Grove Literary, short listed by Flash 500 and now a finalist for the second time by the London Independent Story Prize.

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

I write as and when I can. I have absolutely no routine whatsoever and am hugely envious of people who are that well organised. I fit my writing in around my course running, teaching and marking duties - my students always come first! There's nothing specific that inspires me - it can be almost anything; a picture, a news story, a snippet of conversation, something I see on the side of the road.

- How does it feel to have your work recognised?

The first time I was long-listed I simply couldn't believe it, and that's still the case. I'm a fully paid up member of the imposter syndrome club. I have friends who are 'proper writers', whereas I feel that I'm still just mucking about with words. - What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about writing a story? The best thing is having a great idea for a story and seeing what you can do with it. The most challenging thing (especially with Flash Fiction) is searching for that great idea in the first place.

- 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?

It was a story I'd written for one of the first exercises on Mary-Jane Holmes' Flash Fiction Course, about childhood memories. I based it on a vivid memory of my parents' shock at the terrible Aberfan disaster in 1966 and my father's anger much later at the government of the time (he had been a Bevin Boy/coal miner in Wales during the war). I think it took me about 3 or 4 days to write (in between working) because there was a deadline to meet. - Can you please give us a few tips about writing a story? Read everyone else's stories, especially the ones that get long/short listed, or win prizes, and think hard about why they got selected. Find a willing independent reader of your work and don't be afraid of their constructive criticism. If you're a complete beginner like me, it's worth signing up for one or two good quality courses to get you up and running. Other than that, just sit down and write!

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

The best thing is knowing that independent judges are reading your words and might just like them. The most challenging thing is coming up with an original idea and trying to shape it on the page.

- Lastly, do you recommend the writers give a go on LISP?

Absolutely. If you never try, you'll never know. Get writing and do it.


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