Welcome to the forty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with short story writer and blogger Winn Smith. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Winn. 🙂 Can you start off by please telling us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Winn: I was a voracious reader and writer as a child. For some reason, the reading stayed with me as I grew up, while the writing didn’t.
Morgen: So easily done.
Winn: I suppose working and building a career (I retrained as an engineer in my twenties) meant something had to give. About five years ago, out of nowhere, I had an idea for a short story, and wrote it. I enjoyed it so much that I decided I wanted to do more, and gradually it’s built up to the point where now I consider writing not as a hobby, but a second job. A largely unpaid one, mind, but a second job all the same.
Morgen: Hopefully unpaid as in being published by non-paying markets rather than being rejected all the time (although we’ll come to that later). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Winn: I write short stories and flash fiction.
Morgen: Ah… my first love (which I’m delighted to say, after 4½ novels, that I’ve now come back to).
Winn: I love the ideas of myth, fable and fairy tale, and I try to reflect these in my writing. I write a lot of fairy tale style pieces, which are great fun because the imagination can run riot in a way that it can’t elsewhere. This is as near to a single genre as I come, really: I’ll write about anything that takes my fancy. The joy of being a short story writer is that you can chop and change more – I think it’s much more flexible than novel writing.
Morgen: Definitely. I started off as a short story writer and then did http://nanowrimo.org in November 2008 and loved it do did it again in 2009 and 2010 but my heart lies with shorts. Having just been to Winchester Writers Conference (which everyone should go to, by the way, there were people there from Germany, the US and Australia that I know of) and presented two novels (NaNo 2009 – a chick lit – and one written between 2008 and 2009 – a general fiction) but chatting to the three agents (one supposedly scarier than the others but she was great and told me that I’m a crime writer and should write crime; no complaints from me there) has made me much more focussed (back on short stories thanks to a great workshop with Vanessa Gebbie http://vanessagebbie.com). Sorry, this is your interview isn’t it… slap my wrist if I talk too much. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
Winn: My most recent publication was a piece called “The Food of Love” in the Spilling Ink Review (http://spillinginkreview.com/). I entered their flash competition and ended up published in the review, so that was a nice result! Other than this, I’ve had a few short stories and flashes published in informal anthologies.
Morgen: I’ve heard a lot about Spilling Ink (all positive so far) but not yet submitted… I will now I’m refocused. 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Winn: I’ve only been shortlisted in smaller writing competitions, which are nice accolades in themselves, but it’s only the bigger ones that would make any difference: being able to say, “I’ve been shortlisted for the Bridport,” would certainly add a lot of oomph to your profile.
Morgen: Oh wouldn’t it just.
Winn: The other way it can help is if the competition is run by a publisher – you never know what might come of it.
Morgen: Yes, like ‘Authonomy’ or ‘You Write On’. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Winn: I can remember my first competition win: it was with an online writing forum that is sadly no more. I logged in during my lunch hour at work, saw my name down as the winner of the flash fiction competition and ran round the office telling everyone! I was unbearable for the rest of the day.
Morgen: I like that. I think my colleagues are used to me being so writing focused, one is particularly supportive although I suspect wouldn’t want me to ‘quit the day job’ too soon.
Winn: I still get that feeling now, even if I find out I’m a runner-up. I think you’d have to be very accustomed indeed not to be thrilled by any acceptance of your work.
Morgen: I interviewed Adrian Magson for my podcast recently (as this comes out, part 1 of his 4-part is a day old release) and he’d had over 400 short stories published (and more than half a dozen crime novels) but says it’s still a thrill. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Winn: Yes, several: from short stories rejected to no placement in competitions. I’m philosophical about it. One of my stories didn’t win a competition last year, and the feedback was, “Ordinarily this may well have been placed, but the overall standard was so high that we couldn’t award a lot of stories that we’d have liked to.”
Morgen: That was good of them to say, many don’t have the time to (or bother).
Winn: It’s important to consider that the work might be flawed in some way – always take another look – but sometimes the story simply isn’t right for a particular judge, or editor, at a particular time.
Morgen: Absolutely. I marked some (50) of the 2010 HE Bates short story competition entries and within the ones I had, one was a clear winner but it didn’t get to the top three. I immediately knew I was going (well, hoping) that I was going to love it from the title ‘The bus driver who stopped and then didn’t’ (note to self: must find out who wrote it and say how much I loved it). 🙂
Winn: If I enter a competition where there’s the opportunity for a critique, I always take it. One critique I received helped me fine-tune a story which was then placed in another competition, so it’s well worth it. As a writer you can’t be precious about your work; you have to accept that there’s always room for improvement.
Morgen: Absolutely, although a fine balance of that and a rejection, as you say, being one person’s opinion is healthy. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Winn: I have what I call a “thing” that I’m working on. I call it that because it’s nowhere near finished and it’s already well beyond my usual word count; yet to call it a novella (let alone a novel) would give me the heebeegeebees.
Morgen: That’s funny. I think it’ll be whatever length feels right. Just keep going until it’s done. 🙂
Winn: It’s set in Prague, and was inspired simply by the cobblestones near the hotel where I stay when there. I’ve also got a fairy tale on the go, which came about thanks to a friend and the business she runs. I’ve promised her first read, but after that it’s heading straight towards a competition.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Winn: I try to, but with my lengthy working day (a very involved job and a long commute), sometimes it’s just not possible. I have managed 2,000 words in a day, but more realistically it’s 300-500 words, which is still better than nothing. I love the rare weekends that I get to myself: they’re when I can really get stuck in.
Morgen: Oh me too. But even at the ‘realistic’ rate it’s 15,000-25,000 words a year. That’s a healthy word count and as the saying goes “you can’t edit a blank page”. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Winn: Some and some. I’ll always start out with a vague idea of where a story is going, so I’ll know point A and point B, but not how it’ll get from one to the other. The fairy tale I’m writing at the moment is completely plotted out – I’m just adding flesh to the bones, really – while, the “thing” is a lot more free-form.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Winn: Oh yes! That first story I wrote, when I got back into writing, is a prime example. It was a good-ish effort at the time, but even I can see that I’ve improved since then and that it will sit on my hard drive forever. I have other pieces that I’ve written in response to life events, which were pure catharsis; they, too, are very unlikely to be published anywhere.
Morgen: Catharsis is good too; you never know what might fit where. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Winn: My favourite is definitely when I’m on a roll: the story is coming together, everything fits and I can’t type quickly enough to get it all onto the screen. That’s a pretty unbeatable feeling.
Morgen: Absolutely… my favourite part (and I have been known to sit at my screen clapping… bring on the black leather couch). 🙂
Winn: I also really enjoy editing – getting one over on myself as I find a way to say something more elegantly than in the first draft.
Morgen: If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Winn: There are two things: the first is that I’ve managed to sustain it for these last few years – that I’ve kept finding ideas, and not once has it crossed my mind that I might not write.
Morgen: Me too. Can’t imagine my life being any different now. Ideas are my trouble… not that I’m complaining but I have too many of them for the time I have to write them all… I just hope that I live until treble figures. 🙂
Winn: And second is others’ responses when I tell them what I do: the assumption that one is remarkably intelligent because of it never ceases to amaze me.
Morgen: Maybe you are. 🙂 When I was part-way through my 105K chick lit (for NaNo 2009; it actually turned out as 117,540 by the end of the month but I’ve hacked it since then) I had to take my dog to the vet for his yearly booster which was so well-timed as I was stuck on a parrot disease. Wiki headed me in one direction but the vet’s colleague corrected me. And when I said that I was writing a novel he gasped and said, wide-eyed, “Is that what you do?” Although technically it wasn’t (and I still have the day job, albeit it part-time), it was lovely being given that accolade. Of course I am a writer because I write but doing it for a living is the ultimate dream (for me anyway). Anyway, I’m plodding on again. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Winn: Write. It doesn’t matter what – you’ll improve as you do it.
Morgen: Absolutely. It’s like painting or playing the piano, it’s practice. I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s life; practice. If you worry about something, try worrying less and then certain things become less important.
Winn: The other thing that’s been invaluable to me, practically from the start, is an honest critic. We all know that our family and friends will read our work and say, “Oh, it’s really good!” and it’s of no use whatsoever. But I have one friend who’s spent her life in the art world and is a fair but relentless critic. She’s been reading my work since the early days and has really helped me avoid certain pitfalls as I’ve developed. If you can find someone like that who’s willing to help out, your writing will improve at a much better rate.
Morgen: I don’t care what anyone says, writing groups are great, although I know I’m lucky with mine. We’ve been together years and don’t have anyone who doesn’t gel. We’re firm but fair. What do you like to read?
Winn: I read a lot of non-fiction, largely because I love history and I always want to find out about something. Fairy tales, obviously. For fiction, pretty much anything from Maeve Binchy to Milan Kundera. I’m not so into horror or science fiction, but anything that has a strong voice, a good plot and something that gets me thinking is a good bet.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Winn: I read Writer’s Forum and Writer’s News magazines every month – they’re a good source of competitions and useful information.
Morgen: As I run a writing group I subscribe to them all but am about six months behind (most still in their wrappers) so much start catching up. 🙂
Winn: Stephen King’s “On Writing” is also a must-read.
Morgen: Good old Stephen King. If he had a dollar for every time an interviewee here recommended his book… oh, yes, he is a rich man isn’t he (but so well deserved). 🙂
Winn: Recently I’ve started following several writers’ blogs – it’s nice to see what others are up to, and to see that you’re not the only one struggling with a particular problem.
Morgen: LinkedIn’s great for that. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Winn: I’m based in the UK, but with the internet, I don’t think geography is much of a constraint these days.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Winn: I’m on Facebook and Twitter (@winnsmith).
Morgen: Ah yes, Twitter. That’s how we met. 🙂
Winn: They’re incredibly useful as networking tools, but gosh they can eat your time.
Morgen: Don’t they just but yes, oh so useful, and fun. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Winn: My website is the best place: http://www.winnsmith.co.uk. It tells a little about me, has samples of my work and of course that’s where you’ll find my blog.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Winn: Just a thank you really, Morgen. I’ve really enjoyed doing this interview, and I’m flattered be in such great company.
Morgen: You’re so welcome. And yes, aren’t they great? 🙂
Winn: But I do have one last question: who’s going to interview you?
Morgen: Anyone who’ll have me… you? 🙂
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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