My writing guest this week is Sam Tonge, whose story Food For The Soul is in our March 17 issue.
You’ve been busy forging a career as a novelist in recent years so it’s great to see you back writing short stories for the Friend. Is it something you missed?
Yes, it is, Shirley. I love writing short stories – especially for the People’s Friend – as events and people often inspire me when I read the newspaper or am out and about. And there is something very satisfying about starting something and finishing it in the same day. Novel-writing is such a long process and you have to wait months to feel that sense of achievement.
Do you think being a successful short story writer helped the transition into writing novels? How?
Definitely. Firstly, the actual stories give you practice in writing from many different points of view – women, men, pensioners, teenagers, children – and I have found this invaluable for my novels which always have a diverse cast. Secondly, selling short stories, I believe, makes you stand out a little when you come to submit to a publisher or agent. It shows you have achieved a certain level of skill and that you are committed and professional.
How do the two differ and do you prefer one above the other?
Whilst I enjoy social media, I very much appreciate selling a short story and then saying goodbye until it is published – I haven’t got to do all the leg work to promote it! Laziness aside, it is hard to say which I prefer. I get a thrill when I see both published. And writing a short story provides light relief if I am struggling with my novel whereas it is very exciting with novel-writing, to really ‘get into the zone’ and lose yourself for a few days.
Writing can be a relatively solitary occupation – how do you counter that?
I struggle. I really do. In 2017 I had to take a step back from my career as I’d been working 24/7 for a couple of years and it took its toll. As anyone who is self-employed will tell you, it is so easy to put in extra hours (especially as my children are older now). I try to make a concerted effort now to get out, to meet friends, to do my hobbies, but it is a continuous battle. There is always another sentence waiting to be written.
Notebook and pencil or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall or inspiring view?
Neither. A chocolate cake. I’ll stare at that a while, before eating it and carrying on with my work!
And a PS: What’s your one top tip for aspiring writers?
Be aware of the ‘negativity bias’. That is, Mother Nature has wired us to think many negative thoughts in order to keep us safe. This was all well and good back in the day when we might have charged out at night, in bad weather, near a rival tribe, to hunt with spear… it isn’t so relevant when we are thinking of stepping out of our comfort zone to, say, attempt to write a short story! So ignore the voices that say ‘you can’t do it’, ‘you won’t be any good,’ ‘that one rejection means you will never attain your goal’… Mother Nature means well but you need to recognise that those doubting thoughts aren’t you, they are simply the brain trying to protect you from taking risks. They certainly aren’t the truth.