Our Writer of the Week is Amy Shorten. You can read her debut story ‘The Test Of Time’ in The People’s Friend Special no. 235, on sale now.
Can you tell us about your story and what inspired you to write it?
‘The Test Of Time’ is inspired by the Men’s Sheds movement which is very strong here in Ireland.
My dad has been a member for quite a few years now. When he first joined, a local recipe author ran cookery classes for the men, thinking especially of those who lived alone. My dad was a great cook already, but he really loved those classes.
It sparked the idea for the story and its characters.
Have you always enjoyed writing? When did you decide to start writing with the aim to be published?
Yes, creative writing was my favourite part of primary school. I used to love Mondays: the teacher would write a story title on the blackboard and leave us to scribble away for an hour or so.
I first tried writing a story for the “The People’s Friend” about 12 years ago, after many years of reading my Nana’s copy. I printed it out and put it in an envelope, but couldn’t pluck up the courage to post it. I tried again in 2020 after my second baby was born.
Has anybody played a big part in encouraging your writing? Which writers have inspired you?
My husband has just read this question over my shoulder and given me a very pointed look! But to be fair, both he and my parents are very encouraging. One of my primary school teachers kindly told me that if I ever wrote a book she’d buy it, so I suppose that stuck with me down the years. I must pick up a copy of the magazine for her when it comes out!
I’ve mainly been inspired by the authors of books I loved as a child: two favourites were Arthur Ransome and his Swallows and Amazons series and Elinor M. Brent-Dyer and her Chalet School books. I suppose my enjoyment of them made me naturally want to write.
What are your writing goals? What would you like to achieve?
I work as a freelance copywriter so I’m always trying to improve that set of skills. Creative writing is a nice distraction from the more functional work I do day to day. I would really love to have more stories published in the “Friend” and I have a notion of writing a radio drama at some stage. I enjoy listening to them and it would be amazing to have one produced. But for now, I’d happily settle for just managing to get the dialogue down on a page!
What is the best book you’ve read this year, and why?
I had to trawl back through my online library account for this question; I can never remember exactly when I read things. But it’s appropriate I did, because my favourite book from this year is The Giver Of Stars by Jojo Moyes. It tells the tale of a group of packhorse librarians setting up a library in depression-era Kentucky. I found it fascinating to see how access to books improved people’s lives in such a wide variety of ways. The stories of the librarians themselves were intriguing too, giving great insight into the challenges faced by women of different races and classes.
Which fictional character from a book would you get on with most?
I’ve mentioned Swallows and Amazons already: I always thought I’d get on quite well with Susan Walker. She loves going on adventures with her siblings and friends, but is always caught up with making sure everyone has enough to eat, is washed, has somewhere dry to sleep etc. As a mum of small children, I often feel a bit like that. Perhaps we could help each other to find ways of living in the moment a bit more (while still being responsible)!
Finally, what’s your top tip for aspiring “Friend” writers?
I think it’s important to write about something you’re really interested in and that means a lot to you in some way. Of course, if you’re writing for the “Friend”, it needs to fit within that ethos, but don’t force yourself to write about something just because you think it’s the “right thing”. When you focus on topics that matter to you, your stories will naturally have more life. Also, don’t underestimate the mundane. Many of my favourite books are about everyday, normal things and I love them because I can relate to them.