Can you please tell us about you?
Hi, I’m Jo Withers and I currently live in Adelaide, South Australia after migrating from England in 2008. I work part-time in my local kindergarten. I love working with children and I’m constantly inspired by the bizarre comments they make about life (such as “When people die, what happens to their televisions?”).
When did you start writing? How often do you write?
I started writing in 2016 when my youngest child went to school. I’d had an idea for a children’s sci-fi novel years before but had put it off due to family commitments. In 2016, I thought, ‘No more excuses!’. I started to write my novel and also began to submit poetry, flash fiction and short stories to editors. I’m excited to say that I have now been published many times in magazines, websites and anthologies around the world. In December 2017, I won The Caterpillar Story for Children Prize and in April 2018, my children’s novel ‘5 Simple Steps to Saving Planet Earth’ hit the shelves. I write at least a snippet of something every day, even if it’s only a quick plot outline for the novel’s sequel – I am writing or thinking about writing all the time.
How did you feel when you heard you were on the LISP recommended list? How does it feel to have
your work recognised?
It’s brilliant! It’s so exhilarating to receive the news that your writing has been well received. It is a huge compliment when readers enjoy your writing and can connect with something you created. I feel extremely fortunate to have my work highlighted by such an exceptional platform as the London Independent Story Prize and amongst such a talented pool of writers. Having your work recognised gives you the confidence to keep going - to keep imagining, keep writing and keep submitting.
What’s the best thing and the hardest thing about writing flash fiction?
The best thing is the strict word count, you have to be so disciplined and concise. It’s a great exercise in “show don’t tell” as you leave a lot dangling unsaid outside the story. The hardest thing is also the strict word count as it can be extremely difficult to wrestle a big idea into such a small space. Sometimes I’ve failed completely and works which began as micro fiction materialise as short stories or even novel ideas!
Can you please give us a few tips about writing a 300-word flash story?
I think the best advice I’ve ever been given is to write from the heart and maintain your unique author voice. It can be tempting to try to bend to the latest trends or tailor your writing to specific editors, but real progress comes from developing your own strengths and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. Writing to a strict, small word count is a challenge but it forces you to explore the essence of the story and strip it back to only the most crucial components.
Lastly, do you recommend that writers give flash fiction a go and LISP?
Yes, definitely. Writing is a lonely task and it’s sometimes hard to keep motivated. Entering competitions such as LISP is a way to reach out within the writing community, to share something that you’re passionate about and finish a story to an exact word count within a specified time constraint. It’s a great way to develop your skills and it’s true that the more you write, the more the ideas flow. Just keep going and above all, enjoy writing!