This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.
Earlier this month, OCA creative writing student Matthew J. Fisher’s short story Ma’s Kit made it to the shortlist in the Wordhut.com 7th Short Story Competition. The story is published on his website, which, along with his blog, went live last week. Matt wrote his first story, The Viking in the Graveyard, when he was 10. Now in his mid twenties, he is fulfilling his ambition to write full-time, having studied music for his first degree. We invited Matt to blog about how he developed the idea for Ma’s Kit and the process of writing and refining the story.
‘I would watch the muscles in her forearm writhe as her wrist twisted.
I would watch how her thumb and fingers would pull the needle up through the fabric,
the white knuckle-bones gleaming against her skin’s surface….’
The idea for my story came while thinking about my fiancée, a film reel of her daughter’s admiration for her. She also has a beautiful old Singer 95-80 sewing machine (currently in need of a new belt) and is an excellent seamstress. These two threads (so to speak) entwined to form the basis for a story.
Sometimes ideas take a while to crystallise. I keep a tiny notepad in which I will make notes of an idea when it comes to me. I will sit on these ideas to see which ones come to fruition in my mind, although I don’t plan out the story, just the situation. With this story, I had the two images ─ a daughter’s love and the art of sewing ─ and I knew I could begin writing immediately.
It began with a girl reminiscing about her childhood, of something that she shared with her mother. That was my only knowledge of the story as I began to write it. I’m very much of the belief that a story should uncover itself as the author writes it, just as life unravels as we travel through it; we don’t know the ending, perhaps only a sense of what might be coming next. Beginning with a vague idea, I developed the first draft. The story was nowhere near finished, but there was promise. I put it away to settle, knowing when I came back to read it, I would do so with fresh eyes.
After a few days, I dug out the manuscript and reread it. I had called it Ma’s Kit ─ about a mother who went out every morning with her embroidery kit to sit on the porch and sew. I implemented one of the golden rules of writing: ‘cut unnecessary words.’ In this way, the story was tighter and a lot more succinct, but lacked real meaning. I felt a theme lurking underneath the surface, something which would make the story poignant and emotional, and so I rewrote it.
I sent the piece to my father and fiancée ─ the two people I trust to give the most honest feedback. After considering their suggestions, I felt I had a finished piece which I was proud of. I thought that would be all.
The idea to enter a competition was something I had never considered before. I found my way to a website listing a short story contest for entries under 1,000 words… So I went for it. I kept checking the website regularly (every day), until the results finally came. I didn’t expect to see my name, but I was gobsmacked when I saw my story in the shortlist for the top ten. I hadn’t won, but that didn’t matter. What the result did was give me an enormous amount of confidence. I remember thinking, ‘wow, maybe I could actually go somewhere with this.’
And here I am now. I have a writing blog and my own website. I am entering more competitions and writing more stories along with my OCA studies. It’s incredible how belief is instilled in you when you have just a little bit of positive feedback.
Having said all of this, it isn’t really the competition that is the important thing. The only thing I am really concerned about is, ‘am I enjoying writing?’ As long as I am, then I will continue to write. And hopefully, one day, there will be enough other people enjoying my writing to enable me to support myself with it… Maybe on that day I’ll find a new belt for my fiancée’s Singer 95-80, too.