Annie On Writing

September 14, 2015

Susan Howe – Author in the Spotlight for Twisted Tales 2015

Filed under: Interview with Author — Annie Evett @ 12:45 am
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Susan Howe graces our space today with some insights on her writing, particularly her story, Message Understood which will be included in this years Twisted Tales Anthology.

Susan writes short fiction and has won several prizes. Her longer stories can be found on Ether Books, at Alfie Dog Fiction and in numerous anthologies and magazines. The Beast Next Door is now a short feature film by BOAK Productions and was screened in New York in 2014. Susan’s most recent achievements include stories published in Twisted Tales, Eating My Words, The Edge of Passion, Fifty Flashes of Fiction, The Bookmuse Journal, Fine Linen and Landmarks.

I was prompted to write Message Understood following a spate of news stories about how young people were putting themselves in a vulnerable position on social media via their phones. This is one way my stories originate as I always aim to comment on or reveal something about the human condition.

Although my first piece of fiction was a novel, I have no ambitions to write another. I followed it with short stories up to five thousand words, most of which have been published, some several times. These days I mostly enjoy writing pieces of 500 words or less for competitions and anthologies, partly because I am very competitive and have always needed to measure myself against others, whatever the area of activity. Because of the length of flash fiction, I am able to do this on a regular, almost continual, basis. I’m also interested in pivotal scenes; revealing the maximum in the minimum space. And, coming from Yorkshire, brevity is in my DNA!

As with Message Understood, I may see or hear something that sparks an idea or, if I’m really lucky, a first sentence turns up at random and refuses to leave until a story has formed around it. I also rely heavily on my own life experiences, or those of friends and relatives, as the basis for my stories. This is basically my working method. Racking my brains for an idea doesn’t work for me and I end up feeling talentless and frustrated. 

Having latched onto a theme or story line, I then allow it to gestate for as long as necessary, rewriting and editing in my head until it is ready to hit the page, fully formed. It may be only overnight but more often weeks or months go by. The longer it takes, the more layers are woven in. This process bypasses all the angst of looking at words on a page and knowing they’re absolute garbage. Any ideas that are forgotten is a fitting end for them!

I then put the piece in front of my (private) online writing group and a couple of friends whose own work I admire. I think writing groups can be useful as long as you know which advice to take and which to ignore. As time goes by, this becomes obvious, both from the comments and the critic’s own work and gradually the need for several second opinions diminishes.

I don’t necessarily advocate my writing method for novels, although it is largely how I wrote mine, without notes or a written plan, each chapter forming itself without any apparent help from me until it was finished. I have never revisited it; it was something I just wanted to write, based on something that happened in my village, as an end in itself. 

My advice to new writers is something I often see quoted in more or less the same words: ‘Don’t write because you want to be a writer. Write because you have something to say’. And to anyone suffering from writer’s block, my advice is – do something else! Don’t sit at your computer feeling like a failure, go out and achieve something. Weed the garden, clean some windows, walk. And if that doesn’t work, do it some more! Inspiration comes at unexpected moments because the brain is always in gear, whether you know it or not. And sometimes it simply needs a rest!

I hope you enjoy my story. If you’d like to read more, some stories can be found on my blog: the long and the short of it, some on the Ether app, at Alfie Dog Fiction and in various magazines and anthologies. I also run the Literary Fiction section of Readwave and am a selecting editor for FlashFlood. Wherever there’s flash, that’s where I will likely be!

Twisted Tales is an annual flash fiction competition celebrating (Inter)National Flash Fiction Day, published by Raging Aardvark Publications. Judged by a panel of experienced short story writers and editors, submissions over the last four years have been extremely high quality; making the job of the judge a difficult one. Authors are drawn from around the globe and stories ranging from lighthearted tales of childhood memories, to gruesome stories to make the reader shiver

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