100 Days of 100neHundred: Behind the Scenes

Today we are celebrating 100 days of 100neHundred!  Laura Besley’s second collection of micro fiction, 100neHundred explores a kaleidoscope of emotions through 100 stories of exactly 100 words.

We spoke to author Laura Besley and Arachne Press Director and Editor, Cherry Potts to bring you a behind the scenes look at the commissioning and editing process of 100neHundred and the particular challenges and joys of creating a collection of flash fiction:

Laura, can you give us a brief introduction to your writing career and where your inspiration comes from?

Over the last 12 years I’ve been writing as much as time has allowed, around work and/or childcare. My writing journey started with literal journeys: travel writing about my time living and teaching in Germany and Hong Kong. Fiction writing soon followed.
I realised early on that I had plenty of ideas, but struggled to write more than a paragraph or two. Quite by chance I discovered Calum Kerr online (Director for National Flash Fiction Day at the time). He had set himself a challenge to write a piece of flash fiction (max. 500 words) every day for a year. I did the same. In that year I learned a lot about my writing, not least that I loved short fiction.

Cherry, when did you first come across Laura’s writing and how did the idea for 100neHundred come about?

Laura was one of the contributors to Story Cities, our 2019 flash fiction anthology which explores (almost) every corner of urban life in anonymous cities. Her story Slim Odds was about estranged sisters sitting opposite each other on a train. It was deliciously off-kilter, and now I’ve read more, a typical Laura story. For our eighth anniversary in 2020 I put out an invitation to people who we had already published, looking for collections and novels. Laura was one of those who responded, with her concept in place, and a lot of stories already written. My initial reaction was that it was a little gimmicky, but would make it easy to market, but once I read the stories it was an immediate and firm ‘yes’.

Laura, was the idea of a collection of a hundred stories daunting? How many did you need to write and how long did you have in which to do it?

I’d amassed the 100 stories originally submitted over many years, so in that way it didn’t feel daunting. It just occurred to me at one point that I had enough to put together a collection and 100 stories of 100 words seemed like the best format. I submitted the manuscript of 100neHundred to Cherry in March 2020 and was delighted when she said she wanted to publish it. Things were a little delayed by the pandemic, but in September 2020, after Arachne secured funding from The Arts Council, I got the go ahead. However, there were 25 stories Cherry didn’t like enough to include. Over the next three months I wrote another 35-40 stories, finally both agreeing on the final one hundred stories to include.

Cherry, were there any particular challenges (expected or unexpected!) in editing a collection of stories with such a precise word count?

The predictable one was that they weren’t all exactly 100 words to start off with! And it wasn’t as simple as adding or subtracting a word here or there. Laura had played with the grammar here and there to hit the target, so I edited as though we weren’t aiming at 100 words, and then gave them back and said, now fix the ‘100’ thing. Taking the titles into the header so it wasn’t counted in the file helped! There were some stories that ended up turned inside out in order to get there. And some that we decided to lose because the 100 limit just didn’t suit them, they needed more room to find themselves.
I was afraid that it would get tedious, every story being the same length, (and remember I read a great many more than 100 stories, and all of them multiple times!) but it wasn’t the case – a lot of stories felt a lot longer, and some seemed to whizz by so fast I could barely catch them – 100 words is actually quite a generous limit, it allows for a lot of variety.

Laura, the stories in 100neHundred are divided into four sections, each named for a season. Can you tell us a little bit more about that decision, and how you decided where each story fitted within the collection?

I decided to divide the collection up into sections to make it more appealing and manageable for the reader, thinking that being faced with a bulk of 100 stories, despite them being short, might feel a little daunting. The idea of seasons seemed, to me, the most natural step to take. Once that was decided I looked for obvious markers to place them within the different sections, like the weather, or people’s clothing, but also I looked at the mood of the pieces, as well as trying to strike a balance overall making sure that pieces, in style genre and content, were evenly distributed across the collection.

Were the any moments of disagreement during the edit, or stories that you each
felt strongly about in different ways?

Cherry:
Oh boy – not so much an individual story, but a thread of stories. With the initial 100 stories, I started a spreadsheet with a loose themes column. This was mainly because it helps me work out how to sell a collection if I can track the writer’s preoccupations, and also to check I wasn’t imagining a particular slant to the book.
There were an awful lot of deaths, dead mother/father/brother/sister/friend/child… children, one way or another. Maybe Laura as a young mum was working out her anxieties? I think I actually gave Laura a corpse limit. It was quite amicable!

Laura: Generally, there were no big disagreements (I don’t think!), but there is one story I can recall submitting in the new batch that Cherry said: “No, just no”. And I realised there was no point trying to persuade her otherwise. That’s fine – as readers, writers and editors we all have personal tastes and preferences.

The response to 100neHundred has been incredibly positive, from readers and reviewers alike. Why do you think these stories have resonated so much with people?

Cherry: I think the brevity and apparent simplicity of a 100 word story allows the reader to project a huge amount of their own interpretation onto the characters and situations, so that they relate to the story more than they would if there was extraneous description. The surburban houses are the houses in the suburbs you live in, or travel through, the men and women in the office are the ones you work with; particularly when you are given only a he or she to play with. I wouldn’t say the stories quite achieve universality, but there’s a huge stride towards it.

Laura: I’m absolutely thrilled with the positive response 100neHundred has received. It’s impossible, for me at least, to say with any certainty why these stories have resonated with people. I’m just extremely grateful that they have. Every kind word and positive response is so uplifting.

100neHundred by Laura Besley is available now. Buy a paperback copy from our webshop or get the audiobook.
 

100 Days of 100neHundred: Author Notes

As a part of our 100 days of 100neHundred celebrationsauthor Laura Besley has shared an exclusive glimpse of her writing process

Earlier this year Laura spoke to blogger Elizabeth M. Castillo about writing longhand – I always write first drafts on paper, so I have notebooks, pens and pencils all over the house, in bags, in coat pockets, etc.” – and we’re delighted to share a little glimpse of Laura’s notebook today, with a look at the first draft of her story,’Weekend Dad’:

Laura told us about the inspiration for this story:  “I saw (presumably) a dad and his young daughter in a cafe and the daughter was talking non-stop like little children do. The thought crossed my mind as to what would happen when she was a teenager and, like most teenagers, goes through a silent phase and a time of not liking her dad. I imagined how they might be able to bridge that gap if they only met for an hour or two in a cafe at the weekend.” 

 

Here’s the final story, as it appears in the finished copies of 100neHundred:

 

100neHundred by Laura Besley is available now. Buy a paperback copy from our webshop or why not get the audiobook?

You can find Laura Besley on twitter as @laurabesley and instagram as @besley_laura.

 

100 Days of 100neHundred: Our Favourite Reviews

This Friday 3 September it will be 100 days since publication of 100neHundred, Laura Besley‘s remarkable collection of 100 stories of exactly 100 words each. To celebrate we are sharing 100neHundred related content on our blog and social media all week.
 
 

It may be a little book of tiny tales but 100neHundred has had a big response from readers, reviewers and booksellers. We asked Laura Besley to share her 10 favourite reviews of 100neHundred with us:

 

  1. “The book gives the reader the feeling of voyeurism as if we are taking a glimpse behind the curtain of lives unraveling, of decisions being made behind closed doors, of peeking at the most intimate of moments. It’s melancholic, heartrending, hard hitting and joyous all in one!” Ross Storgy
     
  2. So much of life is packed into these stories; precious moments and sad ones, humour and grief, gorgeous nuggets of hope and stinging barbs of hurt.” Read Ellie Hawkes’ beautiful blog review of 100neHundred
     
  3. “Besley takes you through so many emotions in very few words. She also whipped the ground out from beneath me a few times, changing my expectations with the final line, which I enjoyed.” Goodreads, Reader Review
     
  4. “Laura has created beautiful snapshots, each one alive with precision and emotion. Each story excels in its originality, each one a complete tale, each carefully crafted without a word to spare.” Read an excellent review of 100neHundred – as well as an exclusive story extract- on Book Bound
     
  5. “Such a wonderful collection of human observation told in flash fiction.” Amazon Reader Review
     
  6. “If, like me, you worry that short fiction can sometimes be a little pretentious or isolating, fear not – this is wholly accessible and a joy to read rather than a puzzle to try to piece together.”  @tillylovesbooks reviews 100neHundred on instagram
  7. “I always think it’s remarkable when such short fiction can be so impactful.” Goodreads, Reader Review
     
  8. “Besley writes with sensitivity and an acute awareness of what to include in the frame and what to omit… Every story in 100neHundred is worthy of a re-read; the entire collection deserves many more.” Daniel Clark offers high praise in Briefly Zine
     
  9. “This well-crafted collection tantalizes very quickly and delivers potent moments, creative economies, and clever tours of humanity.” Goodreads, Reader Review
     
  10. “Turning the pages of Laura Besley’s 100neHundred flash fiction stories is as delightful as being inside a huge box of chocolates… bite-size stories meet with you for any and every occasion; they will delight every literary palate.” Read the full review by Elizabeth Chell on Everybody’s Reviewing
 

 If you already have a copy of 100neHundred but haven’t yet left a review on Goodreads or one of the online retailers, then please do! Reader reviews make a huge difference to both the publisher and the author:

“I recently told a friend, who was about to publish her first collection, that reviews will make you cry. Not just the bad ones, although they make you cry too, but the good ones. Especially the good ones. It’s nothing short of magical when you read someone else’s words about your words: sometimes they are kind, considerate and thoughtful, sometimes they are insightful, and sometimes they convey exactly what you were trying to achieve and it is this, all of this, that overwhelms you emotionally, because the hard work, the early mornings and late nights, the writing and rewriting, the editing and re-editing, is worth it for someone else’s enjoyment of your writing.” – Laura Besley 

If you don’t have a copy of 100neHundred, you can buy one from our webshop here.

 

Love Audio Week: Accidental Flowers

“A fascinating and imaginative vision of the future, built on the foundations of our current climate crisis. You get to follow the overall story from multiple view points which allows multiple other issues to be delicately explored through a variety of characters.

A really pleasant surprise from a book I hadn’t heard of! I would recommend it to anyone wanting an interesting, entertaining and thought provoking read.” Audible Review

Our #LoveAudio post today is an extract from the audiobook of Accidental Flowers, a novel in short stories by Lily Peters.

This title was another multi-voiced audiobook. The clip above is narrated by Beth Frieden and we also got to work with several other fantastic voice actors and narrators, including Tigger Blaize. Tigger said:

I loved playing Robin [in Accidental Flowers]! With each role like this, we get closer to having a trans cannon of stories and characters. It’s a brilliant book with a real mix of voices.”

#LoveAudio is the Publisher’s Association annual week-long digital celebration of audiobooks is designed to showcase the accessibility, innovation, and creativity of the format. Follow the hashtag on twitter.

Love Audio Week: 100neHundred

One of the most interesting things about publishing our titles as audio books is when we are working with anthologies and collections that need a multi-voice approach. This creates the challenge of finding authentic, representative voices for each story or poem within the collection – without having to recruit a cast of thousands! 

Today for #LoveAudio week we are sharing an audio excerpt from one of the most multifariously voiced books we have ever published: 100neHundred by Laura Besley is a collection of 100 stories, each of exactly 100 words. We’re delighted to share two stories from this brilliant book, one read by Cornelia Colman and one by Shubhita Chaturvedi:

The book gives the reader the feeling of voyeurism as if we are taking a glimpse behind the curtain of lives unraveling, of decisions being made behind closed doors, of peeking at the most intimate of moments. It’s melancholic, heartrending, hard hitting and joyous all in one!” Ross Jeffrey

#LoveAudio is the Publisher’s Association annual week-long digital celebration of audiobooks is designed to showcase the accessibility, innovation, and creativity of the format. Follow the hashtag on twitter.

Love Audio Week: Incorcisms

For #LoveAudio week today we have an unsettling tale by short story writer David Hartley, read brilliantly by Margaret Ashley.

Margaret is an actress and multi-nominated voice actor – she is currently nominated for the Best Radio Drama Performance in the 2021 OneVoice Awards – and we are delighted to have had the opportunity to work with her on several of our recent audio books.

This is ‘Mothering’, from Incorcisms:

 

 

”David Hartley’s tiny fictions are elusive and teasing and true. They’re like the fading echoes of dreams you struggle to remember when you wake up in the morning – the bits that you know didn’t quite make sense, and made you feel strange and a little unnerved, but you knew were important, so important, if only you could hold on to them forever.” – Robert Shearman

#LoveAudio is the Publisher’s Association annual week-long digital celebration of audiobooks is designed to showcase the accessibility, innovation, and creativity of the format. Follow the hashtag on twitter.

100neHundred Blog Tour

With are delighted to launch the blog tour for 100neHundred by Laura Besley.

Out on 27 May, 100neHundred is a collection of 100 stories, each of 100 words. A man carries his girlfriend in the left-hand breast pocket of his shirt. During World War II, a young soldier searches the houses and barns of the families with whom he grew up. An astronaut wonders whether she can adapt to life back on earth. This is a moving, funny, powerful collection of microfiction.

Laura said “The more micro fiction I write, the more I love it: the challenge of piecing together what I want to convey in as few words as possible and the absolute joy when it works. I’m extremely excited about the launch of 100neHundred, hoping that people will enjoy reading my tiny tales as much as I enjoyed writing them.”

Follow the blog tour on the schedule above to read reviews of 100neHundred, plus guest posts from Laura Besley, an Author Q and A and some exclusive extracts of stories from the collection. 

Find all the content from the blog tour here too (updated daily):

  1. So much of life is packed into these stories, precious moments and sad ones, humour and grief, gorgeous nuggets of hope and stinging barbs of hurt.” Read Ellie Hawkes’ beautiful review of 100neHundred here.
  2. Read ‘Lowest Ebb’ – one of the stories from 100neHundred – in an exclusive feature on Idle Ink.
  3. One of the things I love most about short fiction is the invitation to experiment.” Read Laura Besley’s guest blog post for Popshot Magazine.
  4. “Laura has created beautiful snapshots, each one alive with precision and emotion. Each story excels in its originality, each one a complete tale, each carefully crafted without a word to spare.” Read an excellent review of 100neHundred – and an exclusive story extract- on Book Bound.
  5. Read @tillylovesbooks’ instagram review of 100neHundred
  6. “The main thing that went into 100neHundred was time.” Laura Besley talked to Elizabeth M. Castillo for an author Q and A.
  7. “…like savouring a perfect little tipple at the end of a stressful day.” Zoe’s Book Nook gives 100neHundred 5 stars.
  8. “With this collection I soon lost track of how many ‘wows’ I was uttering…” Laura Besley credits Morgen Bailey’s 100 word story competition with her interest in micro-fiction. Read Morgen’s review of 100neHundred here.
  9. “This collection of micro flash fiction is possibly the perfect read for the moment, as we all grapple with the changing pace of life.” For Book’s Sake reviewed 100neHundred on Instagram.

100neHundred Blog Tour Banner Image

Lockdown Intervews: no27 Laura Besley interviewed by Joanne L. M. Williams

Twenty-seventh in a series of author-to-author interviews to distract them, and you, from lockdown torpor.

SC_Typography_COVER_v9.indd

Laura Besley (Story Cities) interviewed by Joanne L. M. Williams (No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book, We/She)

Joanne L M Williams

Joanne LM Williams

Joanne:        You have several flash fictions published, including your collection The Almost Mothers, and a piece in Arachne’s Story Cities. What is it about shorter fiction that you especially enjoy? Do you also write using other forms, or is flash fiction always your preference?

Laura:    When I first started writing I had no intention of becoming a short fiction writer. I’ve always read a lot, but novels, and had initially seen that as my only path. However, when I first started writing, I had lots of ideas, but struggled to get past a few cohesive sentences, or paragraphs.
I stumbled across Calum Kerr online and his challenge to write a piece of flash fiction every day for a year. I decided to do the same and started in May 2012. Some of the pieces were fine, some were terrible, some were never finished, but I learned a lot about myself as a writer in that time, the most important being that I had fallen in love with short fiction and the precision needed to tell a story.
I don’t feel ready to take the leap into longer fiction yet, but I’m fairly sure I will one day.

Joanne:        When did you start writing fiction? Have you done so since you were young?

Laura:    I remember writing a story about a fairground when I was about nine or ten, but that’s the extent of my childhood writing experience. I started writing again when I was in my late twenties, while I was living in Germany. Initially I was writing non-fiction, about my travels and experiences there. Once I’d moved to Hong Kong, I started writing fiction.

Joanne:        Do you have a daily or weekly schedule or pattern for writing? How does this fit in with the rest of your life?

Laura:    I have two young children (six and two) and have to fit my writing in around them. Before lockdown, I used to write while my eldest was at school and my youngest was napping. Now, I’m lucky that my husband is working from home and I write every morning from 7:30-9:00 before he needs the office, and I need to take over the childcare.  I’m a morning person, so this works well for me. Once the children are in bed, I’m usually too tired to write new things, but do other writing-related things for an hour or so like editing or submitting.

Joanne:        Where do you write? Do you have a particular place you always sit to work for example, or any associated rituals, or can you write anywhere?

Laura:    I can write anywhere, in a supermarket queue or while my son is having a swimming lesson, but my preference is in cafés. I like the cacophony; the snippets of overheard conversations, people watching, the small interactions you have with strangers, the coffee. Obviously at the moment that’s not possible, so I’m either in our office or at the kitchen table.

Joanne:        How has your experience of living in different countries and cultures influenced your writing?

Laura:    Directly, not a lot. I’ve only written a few stories set in other countries (I’ve lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Hong Kong), but everything you see and experience gets filed away. I hope one day to write about these places that have played a big part in my life.

Joanne:        What are your literary influences and who are some of your favourite writers?

Laura:    Always a tough question because there are too many to mention. My current favourite authors are Elizabeth Strout, most famous for her novel-in-stories: Olive Kitteridge; Kate Atkinson, I think her companion novels Life After Life and A God in Ruins are perfection; and Maggie O’Farrell whose books I love, but it was also after reading an article by her wherein she stated that if you wanted to write, you should “take yourself seriously”. I think that advice completely changed my attitude towards writing.

Joanne:        Do you ever write specifically in response to prompts, or call-outs for work on a particular theme, and do you find this useful? Or does your inspiration mainly come from other sources?

Laura:    I often write to prompts or call-outs for particular themes, but not exclusively. If I have an idea about something, I’ll jot it down and maybe it won’t be used for months, or years, but I never throw anything away.

Joanne:        Flash fiction is less well known, and perhaps less easy to find, than other fiction forms. Are there any online sources of shorter fiction, or printed collections, that you would recommend?

Laura:    There are so many online journals for flash fiction, too many to mention here, but I’ll list a few of my favourites: Adhoc Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Fictive Dream, Fifty Word Stories, Lunate, Reflex Fiction, Smokelong Quarterly, Spelk.
Something relatively new, but gaining popularity fast, is the novella-in-flash: a novella, but each chapter is a piece of standalone flash fiction. I’ve read a few recently and really enjoyed them: An Inheritance by Diane Simmons (Adhoc), Dinosaur by Adam Lock (Ellipsis), Three Sisters of Stone by Stephanie Hutton (Ellipsis), The Neverlands by Damhnait Monaghan (VPress), Tethered by Ross Jeffery.

Joanne:        What is your own favourite piece (or pieces) that you’ve written and why?

Laura:           I’ve chosen three pieces that are very special to me.

  • ‘Near and Far’ (Spelk, 2018) holds a few threads of my mother’s childhood, she was born and spent the first few years of her childhood in Indonesia;
  • ‘That Apple’ (Fictive Dream, 2018) was my first ever journal publication. It’s written in 2nd person point of view and I know popular opinion generally doesn’t favour this, but personally I love it and use it whenever I can.
  • ‘The Motherhood Contract’ (Ellipsis, 2018) is about a mother who is struggling and there is a lot of my early motherhood emotions in this piece.

Joanne:        Finally, what are you working on at the moment?

Laura:    As well as individual pieces, I’m also working on a novella-in-flash. It’s been several years in the making, but am hoping that this is the year I finish it. I’ve also found myself writing about the current situation a lot, either my own experiences or fictional ones. If there are enough good pieces, hopefully I’ll be able to bundle them together.

Lockdown interviews: no19 C A Limina interviewed by Katy Darby

Author C. A. Limina (Story Cities) interviewed by Katy Darby (Five by Five, Stations, London Lies, An Outbreak of Peace, Shortest Day Longest Night, Liberty Tales,  We/She)

Katy:     You have a flash fiction, Starlight, in the Story Cities anthology. Was the story inspired by the Story Cities call out? If not, what inspired you to a) write it and b) send it to Story Cities? And P.S. I love all the space(ship) imagery in it – very apt.

CAL:    I wouldn’t say Starlight was inspired by Story Cities specifically, but while reading the callout I briefly flashed back to a time when I was younger. My father was renting out an apartment and needed to renovate it, so he brought me up there while he checked the progress. The arid smell of dry concrete and the night sky stayed with me for a reason I could never understand, but it was the view of the vast, spotted city lights and the hollow sky that overviewed it that stole my attention. I got two stories out of it–The Men Who Stole the Stars, the older version that got into The Jakarta Post a couple of years ago, and Starlight. Whereas the former spoke more of the bare concrete and lifeless growth that I remembered, I think I wanted Starlight to reflect more on the loneliness of the latter half of my life (I say that as if I’m sixty and about to die in a couple of months, but I think in these times, we are all spiritually tired, frail and constantly worried about death, so bear with me.) I think Starlight definitely fit more to the Story Cities call and I’ve always been glad that the editors picked it up, because I think a lot of people in the modern world have an experience or two when it comes to being awake and alone in a cold hotel, staring out into a desolate city or an unfamiliar space. Capturing that was a great deal of fun.

Katy:     What’s a (free to read, online) flash fiction or short story you think everybody should read, and why?

CAL:    I don’t know if it counts as flash fiction or not, but the-modern-typewriter on Tumblr makes hero vs villain pieces where they use archetypes in the place of the characters. Some of them used to be prompts but now the owner of the blog has shifted into making it their own pieces, and I think that’s great because a lot of the works are fantastic flashfics. However, a lot of them lean more to the modern styles of online fandom culture, so it’s still a matter of taste. I’ll link one of their classics here:

https://the-modern-typewriter.tumblr.com/post/159015287478/shh-its-alright-the-villain-said-youre

Katy:     Tell me about the first piece of fiction you ever had published.

CAL:    Oh boy. Informally plenty of my work has floated across the web in various forums, so I’d be hard pressed to say which of them were my first. Formally one of the first places that I’ve ever had the pleasure of being featured in was the Jakarta Post, from the same story I mentioned in earlier. That was published in December of 2018, but it’s been in my rework pile for what must be years, so I’m glad it finally got out of the old trunk. Other than that, I don’t think I have much else to say about it. The Men Who Stole the Stars was a byproduct of didactic phase in my portfolio, and it shows–lots of commentary on the hollowness of urban culture, some poetry and nice words to back it up, but not nearly as profound as my younger self thought it was. It’ll always hold a special place in my heart regardless, but one day I hope I’ll be in a position where I can look at it and wholeheartedly think “God, what was I thinking?”

Katy:     Tell me about your favourite story of your own which hasn’t found a home yet?

CAL:    Tough question! Some of my lecturers have compared writing a piece to having a baby, but if how I treat my writing is any bit analogous to how I may treat children, I should be forbidden to sire an offspring. In any case, I have a debilitating dislike for most of my “children,” not necessarily because of a lack of quality but more because I find too much of myself in them. I think, if I had any “favorite child,” it would have to be the journal entries of a robotics technician who works to repair/study the malfunctioning AI of an android modelled after her late abusive father that develops behaviors its inspiration never possessed. It’s probably never going to leave the trunk by virtue of my never having written sci-fi and barely ever reading the genre as well, but it’s a good feels trip to write regardless, and it made me happy so that’s all that matters.

Katy:     What’s your favourite story by someone else in Story Cities? Why?

CAL:    Coffee by Shamini Sriskandarajah. I interviewed the author a couple of weeks back and she was extremely nice, a very pleasant person all around. I’m just awed by its atmosphere, really, the tension summed in such few words. I think it exemplifies everything a good flashfic should be, a story plucked from the city–well, in Coffee‘s case, plucked from the terminus, but the end result is the same.

Katy:     What story are you working on (or thinking about) right now?

CAL:    I have an extremely early draft of a WIP written in pencil. Professionally, it’s a look into the life of a skilled interpreter who is hired to introduce an otherworldly tourist to the human world, learning the language of nature in the process. Unprofessionally, it’s a story of a polylinguist who has the hots for the sea.

Katy:     What’s one DO piece of advice you’d give to someone who writes or wants to?

CAL:    See the next question.

Katy:     And what’s a DON’T?

CAL:    Don’t listen to me, or anyone else when it comes to writing. That’s kind of paradoxical, but what I mean is automatically following advice when it comes to writing is like following advice on how to live a good life–very little of it pans out in the end because of sheer subjectivity, and advice that pans out for everyone end up being so common they might as well be truisms, like “show don’t tell.” I’m not saying everyone who’s ever given writing advice is wrong, not at all, but I am saying that the first thing you should probably do is figure out what you want to do with yourself. Do you want to entertain others? Do you want to express yourself? Every piece you write should have purpose, even if it’s as trifle as “I just wanted to have fun,” and once you discover that purpose, then you can begin to sift through the endless scroll of thought-pieces to understand how to achieve that purpose. Even then, my instructions might be making you red in the ears, which is entirely valid. The way I see it, there are only two things that truly matter in writing, and that’s how a) you feel about it and b) your audience will feel about it.

Well, I’ve already somewhat given a Do advice in my contradictory Don’t advice, so I might as well give one more. Read and listen. It’s truistic advice, but I know more than a handful of people who write more than they read (including me nowadays, oops), and that usually results in their repeating certain cliches within their mediums or making “amateur” mistakes or breaking vital conventions. The purpose of reading and listening is not to be instructed by others, but to find your own set of instructions, to understand what you like, dislike, want to see more of and want to see less of. This is how you know when certain advice is worthy enough to be listened to and when others aren’t going to fit your flow.

Katy:     What are the best and worst things about lockdown for you, as a person or a writer?

CAL:    Best thing is I get to be alone with my thoughts. Worst thing is I get to be alone with my thoughts.

Katy:     We all contain multitudes, and I notice that you have several names (Eli, Cal, C.A.) – do you use them for different purposes (e.g. a gender neutral writing name) or do they all feel like you/represent some different aspect of yourself?

CAL:    I’m pretty non-conforming when it comes to gender, especially in my home country, so neutrality always felt more fitting than anything else. Some of my names, like Eli, are a byproduct of when I was in high school and still figuring myself out. My email account has been around for a while and I never got to changing its title because I never wholly disagreed with the identity my high school self formed. Cal is my name in the present, and a syllabic version of my initials (C.A.L), and I was lucky enough to be in a supportive environment with companions who’d refer to me as that. I only started formally publishing works in my freshman year, so I never figured out a good pen name, but I did start to favour the Indonesian heritage associated with my last name, Limina. The era of President Soeharto forced Chinese Indonesians like my father to change their original names and do various other things in order to “assimilate” into the “culture,” erasing huge chunks of the secondary identity most Chinese Indonesians in Java had. I imagine the same thing is happening to a lot of cultures from developing nations in a globalist world, and something similar occurs to queer folks who are alienated by their “traditional” cultures. The core of it all is the birth of a new identity from the loss or rejection of an old one. I enjoy the metaphor my last name serves me, the idea that I was not born, but moulded by circumstance, the notion that I both did and did not choose who I became. It has no intrinsic meaning beyond that, though, so perhaps one day I’ll go by something else.

 

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer. we recommend Hive for ePub.

Lock down interview no 4 C.A. Limina interviews Shamini Sriskandarajah

Shamini

Shamini Sriskandarajah

Shamini Sriskandarajah is interviewed by fellow Story Cities author, C.A. Limina (known as Cal)

SC_Typography_COVER_v9.indd

Cal:        Your story in Story Cities, “Coffee”, had an atmosphere of clairvoyance, where the narrator implies a troubled interpersonal relationship from a seemingly trifle thing to an audience that acts as an outsider to the dynamic (at least from my personal interpretation). Was the story inspired from a real life experience, or was it inspired by something else?

Shamini:              It was inspired by a real experience. Not a peace-making cake, but a cake I baked and iced for a couple who came over. The wife suddenly wanted to leave after lunch, so I offered to serve the cake before they left or at least wrap some up for them to take home, but she said no. In our Sri Lankan culture, it is somewhat impolite to turn down homemade food, but maybe it isn’t even a cultural thing; maybe anyone would feel offended if they made something for someone and it was refused for no apparent reason.
The dynamic between the two people in Coffee was inspired more generally by the use of silence as a punishment. I trained as a psychotherapist and we were encouraged to use silence to give clients space to think or sit with their feelings. I think there’s value in using short moments of silence, but prolonged silence is a form of punishment for many people. I’ve experienced silence as a punishment throughout my life and it’s excruciating.
Saying all this, I have been that unforgiving person more times than I care to remember. My default behaviour when I’m offended is to sulk, I’m aware it is horrible for other people and I hope I don’t sulk half as much as I used to. Or at least, not for as long!

Cal:        In general, what do you hope to achieve as a writer? For example, do you intend all your pieces to have underlying messages for readers to pick up, are your pieces more experiments in catharsis, or is it something else?

 Shamini:             It’s certainly cathartic to write – even answering your questions has been therapeutic for me. When I was studying therapy for my Master’s, I wrote in my journals about my gender, sexuality, my muddled sense of class and ethnicity, and I’ve continued to write about them and re-evaluate my thoughts and experiences. The articles I write for academic journals are informed by my feminism and ethnicity. Identity and culture also play a big part in my life writing, including my being a single woman who does not have children. My hope is that readers will identify with elements of my experiences or my take on the world, that it might help them to feel less of an outsider or to be gentler with themselves. If they don’t particularly relate to my writing but they enjoy reading it, that would be wonderful, too.

Cal:        What’s on your bookshelf (digital or otherwise)? Do you tend to lean more into certain genres, binge-read certain authors, or are you more lax about your tastes? What do you wish you could read more of?

 Shamini:             I used to read loads and read fast. I studied English for five years at university twenty years ago, so I read a lot of classics and modern classics. I definitely used to binge-read an author once I got into them – I went through a Dennis Cooper phase when I was in my early twenties and remember reading one of his books on the bus on my way to church, which is so bizarre given the kind of stuff he writes.
I worked in publishing for ten years, so I accumulated a whole bookcase of new books. We had book sales every quarter where new books that were recalled because they had a typo or something would be sold for £1 or less, with the money going to a charity that we nominated. There would be a stampede in the afternoon when we got the “All books 20p!” email. Because I was earning a decent wage, I’d often have bookshop dates after work, where we’d go to Hatchards or the huge Waterstones on Piccadilly and spend all evening there.
I have become a slow reader, it’s harder to concentrate and I read less than I would like to. Also, I earn very little now, so I find it harder to justify buying more books (of course there are times I cave in).  Of course, I write much more these days, so I forgive myself if I ignore the unread books on my shelves and pick up a familiar George Orwell or Gillian Flynn again.
I don’t really have a particular genre. I try to read more of the genres I’m writing, to broaden my understanding. So I’ve been reading more poetry, travel writing (I’m trying desperately to find some writing by women who aren’t screamingly middle class and whose writing would pass the Bechdel test) and memoirs. Because I need a kick to concentrate and read properly, I find the best place to read is the British Library. You can’t take books out, so you have to read there. I really miss it now we’re in lockdown. I used to buy the heavy, literary award-winners, but they would usually sit there unread. Reading for pleasure should be pleasurable. I had a cull last year and it was liberating to hand over two bags of books to my local library. Those books will never guilt-trip me again!
At the moment, I’m reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which has been on my to-read list for a while. Her tone is lovely, and I can identify with the way she processes her grief by walking and journaling, and how she experiences her femaleness. A lot of my writing is about loss, so I’m curious to see how other writers express theirs. I’m listening to the audiobook of Calypso by David Sedaris. A wonderful writer called Wendy Moore helped me to hone my life writing and recommended Calypso, then I did a short course on memoir-writing at Goldsmith’s University and the teacher also recommended it. I flicked through the paperback in a bookshop a few months ago, but now I’m enjoying hearing Sedaris read out his own words. He’s got a great voice. His writing is so ebullient and funny, the sad moments catch me unawares and are all the more powerful for it. Some of the women from my memoir course formed an online life writing group and book club, so we’ve got an incentive to write and read regularly.
I want to read more women and people who identify as non-binary – many of the memoirs I’ve enjoyed reading about grief happen to be by men. I didn’t enjoy Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, having said that, a lovely writer and editor friend called Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou gently confronted my “should”: she said it was important to hear more women’s critical voices, regardless of what our preferences or inspirations are. She’s right, but I need to think more about why I connect with white, male writing when so much of my writing is about not being white or male. The women memoirists I enjoy the most are the ones who write about the crappy parts of life but are funny with it – Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, Sara Pascoe’s Animal and Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted.

Cal:        Obligatory quarantine inquiry! Some people have reported losing track of days or having vivid dreams/nightmares while in lockdown. If you’re practicing social distancing (which most of the world is), have you experienced any odd mental, emotional or spiritual shifts since you’ve been isolated? Has it had an impact on your creative or professional life?

 Shamini:             I’ve definitely had more nightmares. I’ve probably seen too many horror films, but I was terrified of the lockdown at first, and thought I could hear the front door being kicked in one night. So no more horror films and I’ve cut down my news consumption. I still watch The Walking Dead, which feels rather prophetic, but until zombies become real, it remains my escapism. As well as fear, I felt a lot of anger, especially early on. I’m a carer for my disabled sister and there’s been no contact from social services or health services. It seems like vulnerable people and their family carers are just supposed to muddle through months of this alone.
It has turned me into a lioness. I find myself being more assertive, particularly with men. I shared some quarantine writing I did with a few writer friends and they said it was very angry (and sweary!). Anger is often seen as an unfeminine emotion, but that’s part of the problem. Anger is a healthy emotion; we need to separate it from aggression, which is perhaps why some people are scared of other people’s anger and their own.
Professionally, I am now counselling my bereaved clients on the phone. It was hard at first and it’s a bit weird sitting in a car (especially because I can’t drive), but it’s the quietest, most private place to have my sessions. I miss seeing my clients and responding to their faces and body language as well as their words and voices. I miss seeing their smiles and sharing their upsetting feelings in the room. I also miss going to the hospice and seeing my colleagues there, but we talk on the phone every week or so. We call life after a bereavement the new normal and, of course, now we’re all dealing with our new normal. People who are not grieving for someone who’s died are still grieving for their lives of a month ago.

Cal:        Random question. Say you were suddenly physically transformed into someone else and now you have to convince your friends and family members that you’re really Shamini. What would you say or do that would make them believe you?

 Shamini:             What a nightmare! I don’t know. I waffle a lot when I’m talking (as you can see here). I have a fairly good long-term memory – I often remember things that friends have forgotten. So friends and family could ask me about when we first met or a random incident that sticks out in their mind and hopefully, I’d be able to share my rambling version of the story.

Cal:        Any projects you’re working on while the world is going off for a couple of months?

 Shamini:             I have a few writing projects on the go and there’s a lot of handwritten writing from Write and Shine workshops (run by the lovely Gemma Selzer) that I need to revisit to see if there are bits I’d like to type up and work on. Coffee stemmed from a sentence I wrote in one of her workshops – I think she gave us something like ten seconds to write on a subject before she changed it to another! I’m doing a new piece about the lockdown – it’s a challenge to contain my anger enough to make it powerful and impactful, but I feel that it’s important to get it down now, while it’s raw.
For my own wellbeing, I think it would be good to work on my travel writing and live vicariously through my memories of happier, liberated days. Much of my travel writing isn’t even about going abroad; there are weekends in Liverpool and Brighton and days out in London. It’s about going out as a single woman and I can’t wait to do that again. Sitting in a half-empty cinema, having tea and cake while reading or writing or sketching, walking around an art gallery. I even miss getting irritated by people talking loudly in a café and plugging my earphones in to block them out. I miss my friends and colleagues a great deal, but I also miss the freedom of being a wandering Londoner.

Cal:        Well, since you’ve written flash before, how would you write a flashfic of your life/the current state of the world now?

 Shamini:             I’m quite morbid, so I’d probably write something about my whole family dying of the virus, and having to watch the funerals from a live stream. Cheerful stuff.
Seriously though, as a bereavement counsellor, it really worries me that thousands of people are going to be deprived of a good enough ending with their loved ones. I feel desperately sad for anyone going through that now. The daily statistics are frightening but the human impact can’t be quantified.

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer. we recommend Hive for ePub.