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The LoveReading Very Short Story Awards 2021 - A chat with our winners.

We have announced our winners for the 2021 LoveReading Very Short Story Award on our Awards Page.

Huge congratulations to Nathan Alling Long from the US who is the winner of the Judges’ Award with his story The Hole, and Paul Marriner from the UK with his story The Radio, is the winner of the People’s Choice Award.

Having two different writers winning the Awards always makes us smile as it means we can celebrate two fabulous short stories that we’ve all fallen in love with. We’ve asked our winners some questions about writing during Covid 19, the books that appear on their bookcase, and how their winning stories arrived on the page. A very warm welcome with a round of applause to both Nathan and Paul.

Nathan Alling Long’s work has appeared in various publications, including Tin House, Glimmer Train, The Sun, Witness, and Best of Microfiction 2020. His collection of fifty short fictions, The Origin of Doubt, was a 2019 Lambda Literary Award finalist. His second manuscript, Everything Merges with the Night, was a finalist for both the Hudson Book Manuscript Prize and the Iowa Fiction Award. Nathan lives in Philadelphia (US) and can be found at: blogs.stockton.edu/longn

Paul Marriner grew up in a west London suburb loving sport, music and, especially, literature. He writes full time and has published three novels. His ambition is to write books that entertain, engage and challenge and believes in the power of great stories and passionate, honest writing.

LoveReading review of The Blue Bench by Paul Marriner

You can find Paul on:

Facebook: Paul Marriner - Author

Website: Bluescale Publishing

 

Where were you and how did you feel and react when you were told that you had won?

Nathan (The Hole): I was at home working on revising stories when I checked my email.  I was really surprised. I'd read all the great finalist stories and felt there were several others that were more likely to win, so I'd forgotten about the competition actually.

Paul (The Radio): ... home in front of the laptop and really didn't expect the email to have such great news. In true cartoon-fashion I read it twice to make sure I'd got it right and then didn't do anything for a little while, just took time to enjoy the feeling that the story was enjoyed and connected on some level. So often we have little idea of how a book or story is being received so it's both exciting and a relief when you find out perhaps it's not so bad after all!

Have you always loved the written word, when did you first start to write?

Nathan: I have always loved words. I wrote (bad) poems as a kid and the first 100 pages of a sci fi novel when I was 10 or 11. But I'm dyslexic, so I kept making sentence errors and figured I'd never be a writer. Still, I majored in English literature, and after college decided to keep writing, because really I knew I couldn't not write, even if I never got anything published.

Paul: I started to write in mid to late teens (a long time ago), having been inspired by enjoying fiction since I was child. We had a local library and I would be there every Saturday morning for a fresh batch of books. Even when I was quite young I remembered being amazed that not everyone loved to read - did they not know what they were missing! Then, as a teenager, I found I could immerse myself in stories very quickly and found new worlds and engaging characters inspirational. I know some readers see fiction as a form of escapism and I guess that's true to an extent for me, but mostly I think I was just lucky to find enjoyment in stories and people. To write my own stories was a natural progression and I still get excited at the thought of a reader connecting with one of my plots or characters.

How did your Very Short Story arrive on the page, did you write it for the award or was it already in mind?

Nathan: Every Friday, I meet with two writer friends. We chat for a while, come up with some ideas for prompts, then write for an hour and share our work. This story came from one of those sessions. That day, I had talked about a book I'd read on the history of pencils (which are actually made by cutting the wood in half, laying in the lead, then gluing the two sides together). That got me wanting to write a story about someone who wanted to make a pencil without knowing how they are made. I had a friend who had a car with a hole in the floor, which was also an inspiration, and I always love puns, so I guess that's how the whole #2 thing happened.

Paul: I'd written a longer version of this story as part of a local writing group monthly challenge (shout out to Sandhurst Creative Writing Group - a lovely bunch of people and talented writers!). One of the main protagonist's, The Captain, is a character from one of my earlier novels. I'd long had an aspiration to write some short stories about him and the idea for The Radio came quickly. It needed a heavy edit for the Lovereading Award to make the word count and I think that the old 'cut,cut,cut' mantra worked well for the most part - allowing me to really focus in on the story's core - though it was hard to do as it meant casting adrift elements to which I was attached. But it's always a good discipline to challenge your writing and keep it focused without losing richness. 

How and where do you like to write? 

Nathan: I generally write in my office, with a view of a pink dogwood, hemlocks between and my neighbors and me. The busy avenue is in the distance. The other day, I saw a red fox walk across the snow-covered yard, so you never know what kind of inspiration will appear.

Paul: I mostly write in a small study which used to be a garage - but no photo I'm afraid as it's currently a store room for some building work we're having done and I'm huddled in a corner. I approach writing as a full time job and count myself very fortunate to be able to commit so much time and effort to my passion. This means I'm either plotting, writing, editing or sorting out 'publishing admin' and marketing every day for at least three hours and sometimes as much as seven or eight - which doesn't include the hours spent thinking of new plots and characters. But it's all a labour of love. I tend to be a 'planner' rather than a 'seat of panster' - mainly because I like my novels to touch on certain themes and to carry some underlying messages, some of which will be pre-determined. Hence I need to plan certain plot lines or introduce specific characters. There are times when the story takes off in an unexpected direction and I have to keep checking if it's still going to address the themes I want to - and if the answer is 'no' then I need to decide whether to change the story or ditch the theme; always a difficult choice.

How has Covid 19 affected your reading and writing habits?

Nathan: To be honest, I write and revise and send out much more. I'm not doing many other things, so why not?  And while I teach, being online saves me 10 hours of commuting a week, so I'm much less tired at the end of the day.

Paul: I have found it harder to focus. I think that's partly because family members are working from home so there's a lot more going on around me but mostly I think it's because there's a constant hum of Covid 'white noise' - be it news coverage, needing to remember to take masks, sorting out tests when occasionally necessary, making more effort to be in contact with friends and loved ones, the logistics around shopping trips - all these things are simply 'there'. To be fair I have hardly been directly impacted at all but the 'Covid hum' has affected my focus - for both writing and reading. I'm not necessarily doing less, but I have to keep a very close eye on the quality.

Do you have a particular affinity for short stories, do you have a favourite author or collection?

Nathan: I do have a deep affinity to short stories, especially flash fiction. I tend to have a lot of ideas, but not a lot of patience. I've tried writing two novels as an adult, but I get bored with them before I perfect them--though I'm still working on a new one I'm excited about. But I love how stories can take you to so many different places. I have a collection of fifty short works published and two other collections I'm currently sending out. Some of my favorite collections are After the Quake by Haruki Murakami, the 'Sudden Fiction' anthologies (various authors), Close Range by Annie Proulx, Nine Stories by JD Salinger, and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Paul: Not especially. I think my own writing is not that well suited to short stories generally - which is why I was quite proud of The Radio. I feel it's a good representation of my style and the human dramas about I like to write about. One short story writer I read when I was younger is Saki - he wrote in Edwardian times and there's a sense of whimsy, cynicism and mischief in his stories which is both amusing and which I think highlights human nature - both good and bad. I can't think of anyone writing like him today - he's worth checking out. A good starting point is The Chronicles Of Clovis.

Can we have a peek at your favourite bookshelf please.

Nathan: Ah, so many books to choose from. On it would be James Baldwin, Michael Cunningham, Virginia Woolf, Mohsin Hamid, Samuel Delany, Graham Greene, and Alison Bechdel, to name a few.

Paul: Is it bad of me, as a writer, to say I don't really have one? I keep copies of my all time favourite books close, say ten novels, but all the others are either on my ereader, up in the loft, dotted around the house or long gone to the charity shop. But, if I had a favourite bookshelf it would definitely house Catch 22, The Cider House Rules, A Prayer For Owen Meany, Boys And Girls Together, A Farewell To Arms, The Great Gatsby, Something Happened and The Colour Of Light.

What is your most beloved and well-read book?

Nathan: It might well be Giovanni's Room, if not Samuel Delany's autobiography, The Motion of Light in Water. I talk about that book so often, a friend once joked that he thought it was the only book I ever read.

Paul: Easy - Catch 22. I re-read it every other year and find something different every time as I grow older and my perspective on life changes. There are very few novels that are truly works of genius, that push the boundaries of language and the structure of the novel, hold up a burning mirror to society, are insightful and witty and relevant generation after generation - Catch 22 is one of them.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of entering next year?

Nathan: Have fun with it and write as often as you can, so you have stories to choose from. Also, consider writing beyond 1000 words, and then carefully revise each sentence to be more concise until you are under 1000.

Paul: I think the key is in the word 'story'. It's possible to write entertaining and relatable vignettes or short tales of deceit and love with a neat twist or snapshots of life which are enjoyable and moving to read, include beautiful language and are technically very good but I'm not sure they are always stories. So when writing The Radio I was trying to encapsulate the story of an entire novel into one scene. I'm hoping to show the characters' dilemmas, their backgrounds and even their dreams and aspirations in a setting to which readers can relate - and when these things come together I think that's when you have a short 'story'.  

What is next for your writing journey?

Nathan: Mostly more of the same--writing each story as it comes, sending out my collections until they find a home, and revising my new novel until it feels complete, or I get bored with it.

Paul: I'm currently in the middle of my fifth novel. Every time I write a novel my main ambition is simply to make it the best that I can and better than the last. Of course that raises the question of 'what is the best' which is such a subjective set of measures. But I have clear view of what I like when it comes to genre, narrative style, structure, characterisations and pace. So my challenge is to get as close as I can to the ideal in my head. I'm hoping to publish the next novel later this year - Covid 19 distractions allowing!

***

Congratulations again to Nathan and Paul from all of the LoveReading Team, we are thrilled for you. 

You can find out more about this year's shortlist and winners on our Awards page.

You can also read all of our LoveReading Very Short Story Awards Shortlisted stories by clicking here.

Comments (1)

Jane S - 4th March 2021

Fascinating. Enjoyed reading the ten shortlisted stories and the author interviews. Roll on next year!

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