This week I welcome Annie Harris as my Writer of the Week to chat about her story The Home Bird in this week’s issue.
Your story is about two friends meeting after a number of years and how it makes Carol realise that she’s not lived the life she thought she would. Can you say how the idea came to you and why it was one you wanted to explore?
Years ago, I knew an older couple where the husband was absolutely The Boss, from choosing what colour the house was painted to where they went on holiday (invariably where he and his fellow enthusiasts could fly their model aeroplanes.) I was in my Women’s Lib phase so was horrified, but she seemed perfectly happy. We’ve lost touch but I’ve often wondered if she is widowed now and finally grabbed life – her life – with both hands and Gone For It.
What’s your starting point when you write a short story?
Anything and everything – something I’ve read, something I’ve heard, something I’ve seen, when my mind starts playing ‘what if?’ I just do it all the time. Some years ago I went to a gym class where we adjourned to a cafe afterwards. Someone made a remark and I thought, Ooh, I could use that. My face must have shown what I was up to for another woman said, ‘Watch it, girls. She’s listening.’ I felt quite shifty.
Of course, there is that all too rare ‘light bulb moment’ when it physically feels like a switch being thrown in my brain and the story is there.
Are you lucky enough to nail an idea with a first draft or do you write and rewrite?
I write a rough first draft, then rewrite, then polish. That’s actually my favourite part of writing. In fact, when I have a story in the Friend I read it through again, seeing if I could have used a better word or phrase anywhere.
Do you still harbour writing ambitions or have you found your niche?
I love the demands and variety offered by the short story – settings, periods, themes, characters (young and not so young). Plus the discipline of conforming to the Friend’s guidelines, although I hate having to slash and burn whole chunks of my deathless prose to match the required lengths.
Notebook and pen or laptop? Kitchen table or study, blank wall or inspiring views?
Notebook and pen. Computers are so unforgiving – one clumsy finger and you’ve lost an entire story. Even so, I go mad if I’m in the middle of a scene and my ballpoint runs out on me. I write in my ‘study’, ie spare bedroom, with a lovely view – church spire, red rooftops, meadows and woods leading to two hills with a long ridge between them. I could watch it all day …
PS: Your one tip for aspiring writers.
Just write. That sounds trite, but you have to really stick at it. It’s a discipline – and a very hard one – to sit alone in a room with a blank sheet of paper and try to conjure words out of thin air. There are days when you’d rather do anything – even clean out the hamster’s cage – than actually sit there. But it’s worth it, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.