After studying her award-winning short story, ‘How to Curate a Life’, I began by asking the obvious: how are these fantastic ideas generated? (I am after some tips!) The short story is set in the future, with brand new visions of the working world dominated by social media. If you imagine wearing a dashcam and recording all your activities, this is what Rachel envisions. Awkward dilemmas follow for the main character Jesse, a digital death manager, whose job it is to collate a person’s online presence in the event of their death. Jesse becomes torn between what is morally right and falling in love with a ghost. I was bursting to know how this masterpiece conjured a tale that is spookily within our own reach, someday not far from now, perhaps. Lucky first year students of BA English with creative writing are able to study the story in more depth, as it’s now part of the Contemporary Literary Studies module!
Newspaper clippings are one of Rachel’s ideas-generating techniques, cutting out the intriguing daily insights and storing them in a box, when they raise the hair on the back of her neck! This is where some of us are going wrong; gone are the days when the majority of young people read frequently for pleasure, let alone clip newspapers, with scissors at the ready please. Perhaps we need to take the time to observe, or even spy: Dr. Connor says watch and listen to people around you for ideas, be it on the train, or in a cafe, or anywhere. Grab a little notebook or the note page on your phone and steal those quirky little phrases; build characters and stories from the real world. This makes sense really, because we are all unique, so we all generate unique characteristics. Let the earwigging commence.
We spoke at length about academic telepathy within writing, because I have personally found examples of the exact same or similar ideas emerging when mind mapping or conversing with my tutors and peers. Rachel has found this a conflict in her career also, as she begins to write and race to publish with a great idea, to find that it’s recently been done! We agreed that this telepathic sharing arises from the academic environments we share and the media splashing at us daily. The big advice was to stay tuned in with what’s going on in the world of writing; write quickly but well.
The story has such potential to end in various ways: my mind was bumping all over the place trying to end the narrative before it had the chance to surprise me with a shock ending. I asked Rachel if she meant to do this? The story was originally written as flash fiction (typically a few hundred words) from a different main character’s voice and perspective. This in fact formed the dark ending, as Rachel experimented with perspective through her character shift and redrafts. The story went from first to final version in only seven drafts: amazing effort. Rachel says, have a break and return to your writing and you’ll see a little more clearly; something can potentially resolve in this time. We joked how I use house work to bore my brain into idea generating, whereas Rachel runs along the canal. I can only hope to dare try this someday without falling in!
How to get to an ideal, perfect version of the story, when compared with the reality of actually getting a first draft is Rachel’s biggest pain. She gets a flash artist’s image of a written piece and then she has to build on it from thought to paper to masterpiece! I was so shocked yet relieved to hear Rachel still faces these struggles as a writer, even at her highly experienced, educated level. It’s such a relief to find hope in her struggle as writers like I do myself, even though I’m just starting out. Rachel reassures me that the critical voice within never leaves and a good plan would be to give it a character in your mind and simply brush him or her off as, “Oh you again.” And carry on writing. Set a timer; use the Pomodoro technique; setting up a structure can also be an effective way of getting that essential first draft. Use writing friends via your phone or skype to write for a set time, not necessarily to workshop but just to create some good old -fashioned support. It can be tricky, but now you have some work to develop, even if you just love one phrase or word.
There was a huge dilemma for Rachel as she was astonished to find out that her story ‘How to Curate a Life’ was being published by Exit Earth as the winning piece. Exit Earth are an indie publisher of cutting-edge short fiction from Storgy. It had also been longlisted for The Bristol short story prize, an annual international writing competition open to unpublished and published writers. She jokes that short stories are a difficult genre for her to write in, so she was happily overwhelmed by the response to her piece.
We conclude with taking reassurance from one another through our vulnerabilities as writers and commit to learning together, not just as tutor and student but as an entire network here at Beckett. I asked Rachel if we could look forward to a sequel to the story, as I envisioned some potential for further twists! An idea popped into Rachel’s head for part two as we explored the possibilities. That’s top-secret information though, hidden in the walls of Leeds Beckett and our minds for now.