Thursday 24 September 2020

Waterloo Festival 2020 Writing Competiton - the anthology

I'm pleased to welcome today Hannah Retallick, another of our great writers who   contributed to this lovely anthology.  
What do you write? Why this in particular?  
I write short stories (literary fiction) and blog posts. I used to think of short stories as a ‘means to an end’, an early step before moving on to novels, but then I became hooked. Short forms are fascinating – anything from 5000 words right down to 10!  

      What got you started on writing in the first place? 
Stories. Since being read to as a child, I’ve always loved them and wanted to make up my own. My mum has said that I learnt to write almost before I could read. 

 Do you have a particular routine?  
Erm, yes. It changes quite regularly though – does that count? I most often write in twenty-minute bursts because it tricks me into getting going, without freaking myself out.  

Do you have a dedicated working space? 
Yes. Wherever my laptop finds itself. It’s usually my desk or bed, or sometimes a little coffee shop (pre-Covid), because it makes me feel writerly! 

When did you decide you could call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact? 
About five years ago, when I’d embarked on a Creative Writing course with the Open University, I realised that if I wanted people to view me as a writer, I had to view myself as a writer. (‘Embrace Your Creative Name’:

What are you most proud of in your writing? 
I’m probably proudest whenever my writing helps someone. Occasionally I get messages from people saying that I’ve managed to express something they’ve always felt and could never put into words. In terms of external achievements, my first competition shortlisting was an amazing moment. 

How do you get on with editing and research? 
We enjoy each other’s company. I don’t like to spend too much time with Research, but I’m in love with Editing, even if he’s not to everyone’s taste.  

 Do you have any goals for the future? 
Hmm, considering I’m a planner by nature, my writing goals are surprisingly hazy. I love the process and mostly take it as it comes. I’m currently putting together a short story collection and a flash fiction collection, which I’m excited about. I’d also love to have a novel published and get into the top three of a short story competition. We’ll see! 

And now about your story in this collection 
  My story, ‘Book Club for the Elderly’, is about a retired lady who finds comfort and companionship in a group of mavericks.   

What inspired you to write this? This year’s competition theme, Transforming Communities. The opening came to me instantly: ‘Some people believe that a community consists of like-minded individuals. That’s what I thought too, until ours changed my mind.’ The whole story flowed out in one go, which is quite rare for me. I had forty minutes until I had to leave the house and desperately wanted to finish and edit it before then! I managed it, although I arrived at my friend’s looking a little flustered!  

How did you hear about the competition? I knew Gill James and Debz Hobbs-Wyatt already, as well as many of the writers, but I probably saw the link to the competition on Paula R C Readman’s Facebook group, ‘For Writers only, who write without Fear of Rejection’. I also had a story, ‘The Word Has It’, included in last year’s anthology, Transforming Being.  

Have you had any other success in short-story writing? I’ve been shortlisted in the Writing Awards at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, the Cambridge Short Story Prize, the Henshaw Short Story Competition June, and the Bedford International Writing Competition. I’ve also been published in paperbacks, in e-books, and online.  

What for you makes a good short story? A good short story lingers in your mind long after you finish reading it. I love the huge impact that can be made on a reader in only a few words.  

Do you have any tips for new writers or writers seeking publication? Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Hone your craft. Follow the publication/competition guidelines. Don’t give up. It’s as simple and as difficult as that. 

An excerpt from Hannah's story:

Book Club for the Elderly
Some people believe that a community consists of likeminded individuals. That’s what I thought too, until ours changed my mind: Book Club for the Elderly. That isn’t the group’s official title, but it might as well be. It’s run by a smug young person for the purpose of staving off the inevitable loneliness and misery of the older generation. Pah!
To be fair, though, I am that person: an old, lonely, misery. I’ve had a run of bad luck this year and it’s not even June – who knows what other traumas await me? Firstly, my dear grump, Robert, died after a long battle with a brain tumour. Secondly, my beloved cocker spaniel, Martin, a disgustingly stinky animal, also popped his clogs. His untimely demise somehow managed to extract more tears from me than my husband’s. Thirdly, my friends disappeared when my time and emotional energy were taken up with Robert’s illness. Tragic, I know.
So, there I was, an old, lonely, misery, with no husband and no dog and nothing to do apart from read.
The book club is advertised for retired people and takes place in a charming corner of Waterstones, a shop in which I spend as much time as possible, because they all know me in there and don’t mind when I treat the place like a library. To clarify, I don’t take the books home with me – I simply find a comfortable corner, read as much as possible before closing time, make a note of the page number on the back of a receipt, and return to it the following day.

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