To celebrate the launch of the 2019 Benedict Kiely Short Story Competition, we caught up with last years winner, Louise Farr, to hear more about her work and what competitions like this mean to emerging writers.
Omagh Literary Festival: Hi Louise. Tell us a bit about your winning short story, Sing to Me, and how it came about.
Louise Farr: I wrote Sing to Me last Summer. My novel had just been shortlisted for The Exeter Novel Prize, but I hadn’t finished it at that point, so writing a short story was probably a form of procrastination! It was also because I felt I needed to keep writing regularly, so short stories were a lot less daunting than completing a novel. The story was inspired by the story of The Little Mermaid and the T S Eliot poem, The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock. I imagined a teenager who had lost her voice and the character of Natty came into my head. The story is very special to me because it was the first short story I had written for a long time and it gave me the confidence to keep on going.
Sing to Me has a very strong voice. Was the voice unique for the story, or something you worked on before?
Thank you. The voice of Natty is unique for the story. People often comment on the voice in my stories, which is always a wonderful thing for a writer to hear. It’s not something I consciously try to create, but my stories are very character driven. I have an idea for a story, the character forms in my head, and he/she directs the rest of the story. I work with teenagers, so if I’m writing about teenagers I tend to use different punctuation and language, whereas adult characters tend to have shorter sentences and punctuation. I also have an acting background, so I tend to think about how a character might speak or move when writing, very much like an actor prepares for a role.
What did winning the Benedict Kiely Short Story Competition mean to you?
It means a huge amount to me, and I’d like to personally thank the team at The Omagh Literary Festival. It was at a time when I had received a few rejections and when I got the email, telling me that I’d won, I was ecstatic. Not only was it my first win, but it was judged by the incredible Sinéad Gleeson. Her new book, Constellations, is a literary masterpiece, so it was a double honour to have a story personally selected by her. I also got the chance to meet the talented Olivia Fitzsimons, who was runner up in the competition. We have now become good friends and regularly read each other’s work, which is so helpful and supportive.
You’ve had success in other writing competitions. What impact do you think these awards can have in terms of confidence, self-belief and encouragement?
I started entering competitions in 2018, after a long period when I didn’t write. I didn’t tell anyone I was writing again, so when I had some success, it really helped my confidence. Every writer gets rejections, so it’s sometimes helpful to look back on success and think, well I can’t be that bad! I also discovered a supportive community of writers on Twitter, and it’s lovely to give and receive encouragement when someone has their work selected on a longlist or shortlist. It feels like a little literary family!
Sing to Me is due to be published in the No Alibis Press Anthology, Still Worlds Turning. What does it mean to have it included in an anthology featuring so many established and emerging writers?
I’m absolutely thrilled to be included with such a group of incredible writers. I won’t name individuals, because I don’t want to leave anyone out, but it’s such an honour and something I’m very grateful for. I’m also delighted that June Cauldwell has written the introduction, as I heard her read at the competition award ceremony and I’m a huge admirer of her work. I’m really looking forward to the book launches and reading all the other stories in the book.
Louise Farr is a teacher and writer from Bangor, Northern Ireland. In 2018, she was the winner of The Benedict Kiely Short Story Competition and The Trisha Ashley award (Exeter Short Story Prize). In 2019, she was a finalist in the Doolin Writers’ Weekend Short Story Competition and the winner of The Ink Tears Short Story Competition. She also received third place in the TSS Publishing Flash 400 competition.
Her award winning story, ‘Sing to Me’ will be published by No Alibis Press in the anthology ‘Still Worlds Turning’ in June 2019. Her first novel was shortlisted last year for The 2018 Exeter Novel Prize.