Rachel Sloan, LISP 2nd Half 2021 Short Story Finalist
LISP 2nd Half 2021 Short Story Finalist 'Paula' by Rachel Sloan
- Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?
I’m a curator at a museum in London. Born and raised in Chicago, I’ve called the UK home for most of my adult life; my accent is still lost somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. I live in Bromley with my fiancé and have just acquired a small and pitifully neglected garden that I’m really enjoying getting stuck into.
- When and how did you get into writing?
I’ve written since childhood. I graduated from (truly terrible) poems to (slightly less terrible) stories, then went to university and for several years laboured under the illusion that I was a poet. After that, I did two postgraduate degrees and all of my creative energy was diverted into academic writing. I only got back into writing a few years after I finished my PhD and I finally understood that prose (both fiction and creative nonfiction) is my natural medium. I started writing short stories again and then a novel but had no luck getting anything published and began to lose confidence. Then two years ago I submitted a story to the Bridport Prize and was floored when an email landed in my inbox saying it had been Highly Commended. That gave me the boost I needed to keep going. Of course I still get rejections, but my list of publications has been growing ever since and I don’t plan to stop!
- How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?
I wish I could say I had a writing routine, but as I have a full-time job my ‘routine’ consists of fitting writing around work and other commitments. I try to write as often as I can and as inspiration strikes, but much of the time I’m thinking about a story or essay whilst doing something else, shaping it in my mind, which is just as important a part of the process as sitting down at the computer or with a notebook. My best time of day for writing is, very inconveniently, the afternoon, but if I’m really in the groove then I can write in the evening. I also have a terrible habit of writing in my head whilst lying in bed. My LISP selected story was the product of more than a few nights of insomnia, but it was worth it.
As to what inspires me – art, nature, cities (a sense of place is very important to a lot of my writing), a fleeting glimpse of a passerby or an overheard snippet of conversation, a remembered image from a dream…
- How does it feel to have your work recognised?
Fantastic. It never gets old. It encourages me to keep going and, just as importantly, it makes the inevitable rejections much easier to soldier through!
- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about writing a Story?
Best thing – when it’s going well, when you find your ‘flow’, writing is nothing short of euphoric (this may sound over the top but it’s true!). The most challenging thing is that dreadful gulf that can open up between how the story exists in your mind and what emerges on the page.
- 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 story is inspired by the artist Paula Modersohn-Becker, whom I first encountered in one of my undergraduate art history classes; I adore her work and find her early death and the lack of seriousness with which she was treated during her short life completely enraging. She was also, like me, a stepmother and I was surprised to see how much has been made about her ambivalence about motherhood but her experience of stepmotherhood is barely discussed. There’s definitely some of my experience in there – literature is brim-full of wicked stepmothers seen through the eyes of their stepchildren, but you seldom get the point of view of a stepmother muddling along, trying her best, making inevitable mistakes and having to get back up and try again.
I wrote the story just over a year ago. It took a few weeks to write but a year to get published – it’s by far my most rejected short story. To have the LISP selection come along at the same time as an acceptance from a magazine was tremendously validating.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a story?
Get everything out on the page, no matter how messy and chaotic it looks, then put it aside for a while and look at it with fresh eyes. Be a brutal editor. Read your writing aloud – it’s the best way to see if it flows naturally. And read widely – no writer writes in a vacuum and you might as well learn from the best!
- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions?
Most challenging thing(s) – the expense piles up quickly; there are so many competitions out there it’s hard to keep track of them all and, crucially, to figure out which ones suit your work best; multiple rejections in a short space of time can take a toll on your confidence. Best thing – your work is judged blind so if you make the cut, you know you succeeded on merit alone. Given that I first achieved publication through a competition, I have a real affection for them.
- Lastly, do you recommend that writers give it a go on LISP?
Absolutely – nothing ventured, nothing gained!