Could I sit in a public place for three hours and write a thousand word short story? I’d no idea – never tried it before. I’d written a couple of short stories years ago and sold them, but this was beginners’ luck. Somehow I had not managed to rise again to that level of success. I didn’t have the knack. Other writers seemed to be able to turn out beautifully crafted stories with ease; hot, exciting, precise little oeuvres, like Nadia’s bakes. Something had to be done to shake me out of this creative lassitude (idleness?). And here was a challenge. Frome Writers’ Collective were looking for writers to participate in the annual “Writers In Residence” event, part of Frome Festival.
Having been a member of the Collective for several years, latterly as a trustee, regularly attending meetings, socials and readings I felt that it was time to participate in something that involved actual writing. So I volunteered.
Each writer is issued with a prompt, a table and chair and a space in a shop in Frome town centre, and left to get on with it in full view of Saturday morning shoppers.
As a seasoned clog dancer I am not unduly fazed by Saturday morning shoppers. After all someone who is prepared to put on a strange costume and prance around to folk tunes in the market places of various British tourist traps must have acquired some immunity to shame. It couldn’t be more difficult than Ivy Sands’ Exhibition Steps, could it?
It could be. Turned out it was a competition, with prizes for the winners given out at a Festival event in Frome Library, and, later, we’d all be asked to read out our offerings at a FWC social. Two days before the event we received our prompt, a quotation from Mary Shelley: “Every thing must have a beginning”. Gothic is not my thing, but it was too late to back out with any semblance of dignity.
Running across the footbridge over the river on the fateful Saturday morning I passed a beggar. I was in too much of a hurry to open my purse and ran on, ignoring him, feeling very guilty. I glanced back at him over my shoulder and I had an idea.
They put me in a rather smart dress shop on Cheap Street; surrounded by beautiful clothes. The clientèle were quiet and respectful (probably more interested in fashion than literary endeavour) and the proprietor, tactfully, left me alone.
I thought of the beggar, dipped a ladle into my literary stockpot (where I keep offcuts from old plots permanently on the boil), interviewed some characters from the “Bestiary” (my own personal “Book of Beasts”) and I was away. Fighting off the occasional impulse to browse through the dresses, I finished my story.
It didn’t win, but it did respectably, receiving some positive feedback after the FWC social, and some very useful advice. The standard, as it always is at FWC readings, was scarily high, which made me feel proud of my also-ran story. I’d actually managed to write something acceptable in a very short time, and to specification – more or less.
So the moral of this tale is “have a go!” You don’t know what you can do until you try. Though the event is nominally a competition, the atmosphere is kind and supportive. You are among friends.
I am extremely grateful to all those members of FWC who organised the event and read all the stories to pick the winners… And returning to my car after a recent Trustees’ meeting, I met a beggar on the bridge and dropped a pound coin into his hat.
Sian Williams 12/09/2018