Sherry Morris, Short Story Semi-Finalist, LISP 2nd Quarter 2020
- Can you please tell us about your daily life?
I live on a horse farm in the Scottish Highlands and work part-time from home. I moved here three and a half years ago from London to be with my partner. It was a big change, leaving the centre of London to live in a Highland village, but I absolutely love it. It’s one of the best life decisions I ever made.
I write in the mornings and switch to my day job in the afternoon – supporting epidemiologists at a leading London university. I’m very lucky to have a great work-life balance. My partner is a playwright, so as soon as I arrived I was involved in the writing world of the Highlands. I’m a Board member at Northwords Now and run its Twitter feed, help organise a yearly local literary festival and sit in on lots of playwriting ‘scratch nights’ and workshops that my partner organises — at least before lockdown. I also walk or bike ride each day as the countryside here is stunning. I also now dabble in photography.
- When did you start writing? How often do you write?
I’ve been taking my writing seriously since about 2014, reducing my work hours and getting up early in the mornings to write. But I took creative writing classes at secondary school and university, and was always encouraged by my teachers to write. As a teenager, I can still recall reading Stephen King’s Misery and how terrified I was to turn the page — yet there was no way I was not going to keep reading. I was fascinated by this ‘super power’ a writer could have over his or her reader. Thought that as working-class female from rural America, it was likely to be the only super power I might ever be able to access. Decided to try.
I tend to write every day, but I’m a very slow writer. I can’t imagine writing a novel. I’ll never live long enough to finish even a first draft!
I’ve had a fantastic 2020 as far as my writing goes — I was selected by the BBC to join their Scottish Voices writer development programme. I won the 2019 Retreat West Flash contest which was announced in January 2020 and in February I came second in the Barren flash fiction contest. A story I wrote about a haunted highchair came third in Anvil’s competition in March and now I’m a LISP semi-finalist. I’m also super-proud to have work in two anthologies: Storgy’s charity anthology ‘You Are Not Alone’ and Swallow Publishing’s ‘Humans in the Wild: Reactions to a Gun Loving Country.’ Both feature the tremendous flash writer Kathy Fish.
- How does it feel to have your work recognised?
It’s fantastic! The feeling never gets old and the thrill never lessens. I very much value the support my partner and family provide and I know I’m lucky to have a writing partner who ‘gets it.’ But having external validation is a special high that’s super addictive! It’s also a touchstone for when the rejections pour in — and believe me, they do!
- What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing a Short Story?
Best thing: Getting the idea! Racing for a scrap of paper/pen to get those initial thoughts down. Feeling it unfold! Everything is possible then! The idea is gold! Booker Prize winning!
Hardest thing: Writing it! Putting on the page what’s in my head so it evokes an emotion, becomes that page-turner. I don’t usually manage to do that, I just have to hope I get close. If the story gets selected then I know I managed to get part-way there.
- 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 have a thing about sunflowers. It’s no accident my photo includes one. Last year we had a bumper crop, growing them in rows of individual pots. On windy days they really did seem to dance psychotic jigs and took on this ominous air as they swayed, their leaves rasping against each other, especially as they withered and died. I knew I had to put that in a story! I started thinking about their heads as cyclops eyes and it just went from there.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a 1500-word short story?
I’m probably the last person to give tips on writing to this word count. I don’t find it easy. What happens with me is I try to write a 1000-word story, but it grows. I used to try and contain my stories, to prune them to fit to a prescribed word count. But now I just let them develop. I lie and tell myself I’m going to write just a little story of 500 or 1000 words to get going, then see where the story ends up — after editing of course. Editing is crucial. This story happened to be happier at 1500 words than 1000.
- What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing competitions?
I’ve been on both sides of writing competitions — entering loads and judging a few. I’m the 2020 Segora short story judge and looking forward to receiving the entries in the next week or so. I know there’s going to be so many worthy stories, but I’ll only be able to give recognition to a few. Longlists and shortlists help. It’s just important to remember that writing competitions are subjective. Making the longlist is a win as far as I’m concerned Anything further is just taste and luck.
With literary magazines, it’s slightly different. It’s still subjective of course, but there’s usually wider scope. I read for Taco Bell Quarterly and we’re able to select more pieces. Just because a story hasn’t won a competition, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy. Send stories to a lit mags too. And if the story is about tacos, definitely send it to TBQ!
-Lastly, do you recommend the writers to give it a go on short story and LISP?
Absolutely. The great thing about LISP is that long and shortlisted writers are published and promoted. The1500 word count is a good length. The story stays lean and focused but gets that extra bit of breathing room. Also, now that I’m writing scripts, I’m keen to try LISPs short screenplay contest. It’s great how LISP caters to flash, short story and script writers.