In the Writing Short Fiction course, there’s an exercise called ‘The 3 Ps – plot, place, people’ and it was during this exercise that I wrote the story which I knew I would submit for Assignment 2. I also wrote another which used the 3 Ps. I called it Comings and Goings, and when I read it through, I realised I didn’t want to consign it to my coursework folder. The deadline for the Yeovil Literary Prize coincided, so I submitted it.
Then I forgot about it. I never dwell on entries I’ve submitted. I know from experience how it can mess with the brain, so I do the ‘ostrich’…albeit not quite as stationary as traditional…I had to continue with Part 3 of the course, after all.
The exercise asks you to write three lists:
- Six basic plot ideas, e.g. pressure to commit a robbery, a relative going missing, having to confront a phobia etc.
- Six places, e.g. Bluewater Shopping Centre, Brighton front, the Hull ferry to Bruges.
- Six people, e.g. a postman who secretly reads Shakespeare, an unemployed teenager who loves hip hop, a lonely businesswoman.
Mix up each list to bring random groups of the 3 Ps together and come up with a story outline for each…
I’ve seen ideas such as this on various websites and my favourite site of all is Creative Writing Now where there’s also a downloadable ‘prompt-a-day’ (free of charge), and I’m all for a leg-up where ideas are concerned because there’s only so many dank and dreadful memories from your past that you’re able to dredge up to deliver to an unsuspecting audience before you’re labelled a bit of a misery-guts.
In Word I created three columns for my six ‘blocks’ of Ps. I could happily have filled the page with more, and so did; ending up with 12 sets of Ps. Here’s the original (tea-stained and paw-marked) story outline:
I took the Plot: ‘A baby born in mysterious circumstances’, The Place: ‘An Airport’ and Person: ‘A caretaker who talks to invisible things’ as my basis. I had no idea where it would go, or what would happen, but the skeleton was in place and I felt like I was joining the dots.
Predictably, I began with my character because I tend to write that way; places don’t give me the ‘feel’s and neither do plots. My writing is definitely character-driven…and so Robert J Cottley was born.
The moment I gave my character a name (it flew unbidden into my head) he became a widower working at Arrivals and Departures in a busy airport. I made him a curmudgeonly old boy who couldn’t get used to his rebranded title of Facilities Engineer. He’d never had a decent conversation in all the 40 years he’d worked at the airport. As the story opens, he’s five days away from retirement, and about to clean the disabled toilets.
Once Robert was inside the toilet, the story wrote itself. He heard a cry, investigated and found an abandoned baby. It’s clear Robert has been visited by his dear departed wife, Effie a lot since she died and so he has a chat with her…
She was standing behind him with one of her delicate hands on his shoulder (her arthritis had disappeared along with about five decades since she’d started visiting him) and she was looking down at the baby herself. Robert’s heart swelled as he watched the smile he’d fallen in love with filling her face – the room – with a kind of glow. Effie. His Effie. She could’ve won the war single handed if ever she’d been allowed to. They called them Feminists these days didn’t they? Well his Effie had been one of those long before the word had been invented, he was certain of it…Comings and Goings by Deborah Riccio.
I was shocked and thrilled when I got a proper letter through the proper post telling me that I’d been longlisted in the Yeovil Literary Prize 2016. That was all I needed. Validation showered down on me like glitter from the gods and I made plans to frame this wonderful letter once I’d come back down to earth.
Two weeks later, whilst sitting in the middle of a field at our local Hospice, supporting a Busk ‘til Dusk musical extravaganza (a great deal of literary licence involved with that description, let me tell you), I received an email telling me that ‘Comings and Goings’ had placed second in the writing prize. Second. SECOND. SECOND! I know. I nearly fell off my ‘bring-your-own-garden-chair’ with surprise. And yes, I did cry a bit.
The Judge of the short story category, Literary Scout Natasha Farrant, had this to say about ‘Comings and Goings’:
“This story is a wonderful, poignant portrait of loneliness and grief. How clever to begin the story so formally with Robert J. Cottley’s full name, gradually progressing to Robert and finally, through Effie, to Bobby. I loved the transition from grumpy old man to tender husband. I could just see him with his trolley, being ignored by busy passengers. I’m ashamed to say that at first I didn’t like him very much. And then, as soon as he found the baby, my heart began to melt. Clever to leave the story open-ended, too. I think you should always finish a short story feeling a little unsettled, and the dilemma between what I knew Robert J. Cottley ought to do and what I wanted him to do still occupies my mind…”
Second! I’ve never been second before. I might change my name; have it hyphenated to Riccio-Second or something… a truly momentous occasion in my writing journey.
Because it is a journey. There’s no set destination (a six-figure publishing deal one day would be lovely of course, and a battle for foreign rights and movie options the cherry on the icing on the cake) but the roads leading to wherever it is I’m going are so varied and thrilling: with the little double-humped back bridges that make your tummy lurch in a good way, the potholes that leave you limping for a couple of days and the dead-ends that make you wish you’d brought a lump-hammer along for the ride. And moments like these are like driving along a smooth-going rise on a clear day. That makes it all worthwhile.
Deborah Riccio will collect her prize, and possibly read an extract from the story at 2016 Literary Dinner on the 20 October in Yeovil.
To find out more about the Yeovil Prize, and the 2016 prize-winners click here.
Find out more about Deborah’s Creative Writing OCA journey
The Yeovil Literary Prize 2016 Anthology will be out after the Prize Giving and can be purchased from Amazon.