Emily Bullock was awarded first prize in the 2011 Bristol Short Story Prize at our awards ceremony just over a week ago. She is pictured second from the right with, from left to right, the acclaimed writer Alison Macleod, Right Honourable Geoff Gollop Lord Mayor of Bristol and publisher, writer and performer Bertel Martin who was chair of the 2011 judging panel. We are really pleased to welcome Emily to the website.
Emily graduated from King’s College, London with an English degree and MA in 19th Century Literature. She followed this love of plot to work in feature film production before seeing the light and pursuing writing full-time. She attained a distinction from the UEA Creative Writing MA. Emily is currently tutoring for the Open University in Literature and Creative Writing and still writing. She is, also, working on a Creative Writing PhD with the Open University.
What first drew you to writing fiction?
I love to read a good story, something that touches you in some way whether through laughter, or fear, or sympathy. Although everyone must say it, initially it was reading that led me to writing. I also relish the opportunity to inhabit other people’s lives that fiction gives you, as a writer – to see things from their perspective. Writing is always something I wanted to do, it just took me a while to work out how to go about it; and I’m still learning how to do it.
When you’re writing do you have a reader/readers in mind or do you concentrate completely on writing what you want?
I never have a specific reader in mind; I think I would find that a bit daunting, even constricting. I would feel the need to tell them what they wanted to hear rather than keeping the authenticity of the characters as my priority. However, I really try to keep a clear sense of an ‘audience’ when I am writing: what do they need to know, what do I want them to see.
Your BSSP winning story, ‘My Girl’, is really convincing about the world of boxing; was it a case of writing what you know or did you do lots of research for the story?
My grandfather was a boxer, and my dad’s always maintained that interest in the sport; and strangely, my partner’s grandfather was also a boxer. So, I’ve always been aware of boxing and also fascinated with why people would do it. I decided to look into this more closely with my PhD, focusing on the 1950s world of boxing – which is an on-going process of research. So, the short story is probably more a case of writing ‘what you come to know’.
The mother and daughter characters in ‘My Girl’ are brilliantly realised and feel like they have many more stories to tell. Do you have any further plans for them?
I have written another short story from the daughter’s point of view, set towards the end of her career. Sometimes the characters come first in a story, and for me these two have definitely taken on a life of their own. A few people have asked whether ‘My Girl’ is from a novel I’m writing… so, I don’t think I’ve quite finished with them yet.
How did working in film production influence your writing?
I try to be a very visual writer, creating a scene for the reader; thinking about techniques of editing to move the story along. But I suppose one of the biggest influences from film has to be the importance of story – if the story doesn’t work, then everything else will fall apart too. It also made me realise that, except for the gilded few, there isn’t much money in writing; so I’d better make sure that I loved what I was writing (and find some part-time work to keep me off the breadline).
You have studied Creative Writing and teach it, too. Has doing both changed the way you write?
I wouldn’t say it has changed what I write but it has definitely changed the process of how I write. Doing the MA helped me to think of myself as a writer, accepting that it was what I wanted to do. It also introduced me to some good friends, and helped me to understand how writing workshops work. But I really think it is teaching at the OU and undertaking the PhD that has had the most influence. It has provided me with many techniques to get started, exercises to practice and build characters and stories from. I also think it is through editing and analysing other writer’s work that I have learned how to develop my own writing.
Has winning the 2011 Bristol Short Story Prize encouraged you to write more short stories?
Yes, it really is a big confidence booster. I’ve even broken away from writing one to answer these questions! I think it has taken me a long time to realise that not all the stories I come up with should be novels. I really enjoy the challenge of being precise, only having a few hundred or thousand words to tell a story. This involves hinting at more than what is on the page; for me developing the art of subtext is something I’m really enjoying concentrating on.
Which writers do you most admire?
All those who keep going: it is so easy to become discouraged. As far as published writers go, I always find it hard to limit myself; there would be those I most admire for making a difference with their writing, those I most admire because I wish I had written what they have… But if I had to name just one, it would be Toni Morrison – I’d read her shopping lists. Beloved is the book I remember picking up as a teenager, and when I finished it I felt like a different person; I have to admire any writer who can do something as powerful as that.
Emily’s winning story is available in our latest anthology (right), which also features the other 19 brilliant stories on this year’s shortlist. It can be ordered direct from usIt is also available fromThe Book Depository, Amazon, Foyles, Waterstone’s website, and some bookshops. If your local bookshop doesn’t have it in stock then they will be able to order it in for you.