Lu Hersey is a vital part of the Bristol Short Story Prize. As a founding member, a reader of submissions and key decision maker in selecting the longlist, she has played a crucial role since the very beginning.
We took the opportunity to ask her about her novel, her writing and, in particular, her experience of seeing both sides of writing competitions.
When did you know you wanted to write?
I can’t remember a time before I wanted to write – so probably at nursery school!
What was your first reaction when you found out you had won the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition?
I had to get Debbie Taylor, the editor of Mslexia, to repeat what she’d said about five times to make sure I’d heard her right – and even then I worried that maybe she’d made a mistake. When it finally sank in, I bounced round the house like a five year old with a silly grin on my face…
What role do you think writing competitions play in the contemporary publishing world?
Whether you win or not, competitions are great for giving you a deadline to finish a piece of work, whether it’s a short story, a poem or a novel.
And it’s always worth entering. If you’re long listed, you’re already a winner – I know from helping to sift the Bristol Short Story Prize entries that all the stories selected for the long list are potential winners, and they’re all exceptionally good. In the end it’s down to the preference of the judges. Also, your chances of getting a publishing deal are far higher – especially if you’re lucky enough to be shortlisted or win the competition.
It’s certainly shown me how high the bar is set! If there’s one piece of advice I’d give people entering competitions, it’s check your work and edit ruthlessly to make your piece of writing as good as it can be. I see a lot of Bristol Short Story prize entries that have amazing potential, but just need a bit more work to get them to the right standard. If possible, join a writing group and get other people’s feedback on your work too – sometimes you have to kill your darlings to make a piece come right.
Who or what are the biggest influences on your writing?
Landscape, myth/folklore and the collective unconscious – for me these things are intricately linked. But that’s just me! It’s what interests me and what I write about.
Who are your favourite writers?
Hmmm. It’s a bit like asking what your favourite food is – it depends what genre you’re reading!
I write for teens, so most of my reading is children’s literature. I call it research, but I reckon some of the most exciting books around right now are written for the YA (teen/young adult) and MG (8-12) markets.
At the moment my favourite MG writers are SF Said (his book Phoenix is a masterpiece – any reader could enjoy it, whatever their age), Michelle Paver, Frank Cotterell Boyce and David Almond, among many others. If you want a tip for a future star, look out for Chloe Daykin, soon to be published by Faber. She’s amazing.
My favourite YA writers over the last year or two have included Stefan Mohamed, Anna McKerrow, Emma Haughton, Claire McFall, David Hofmeyr, Sarah Benwell, Clare Furniss, Sara Crowe and Non Pratt – and that’s just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. There are so many talented writers, it’s hard to list them all.
My adult reading is mostly non fiction by writers like Robert Macfarlane – or short stories. Obviously I love short stories…I read hundreds of them every year!
If you could change one thing about publishing what would it be?
The glacial speed at which things happen. As a writer it’s incredibly frustrating.
However it probably doesn’t seem that way to readers, and the whole point of the process is to make your writing as good as it can be before it goes on sale – so it’s all worthwhile in the end.
Lu’s debut novel, Deep Water, is out now, published by Usborne.