This year’s Segora writing competition deadline is looming (15 June 2020), so today I’d like you to meet the short story judge, Sherry Morris.
Here she is!
If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she won the 2018 Segora short story competition with An Ode to those who believe in Luck (And All that Lovey-Dovey Stuff).
Sherry is special to me because I judged the 2018 competition and was bowled over by her story.
When Gordon & Jocelyn Simms, the organisers, gave me the names of the winning authors, hers sounded familiar. I checked and discovered that she’d won another French competition: the Book-a-Break story competition held by Curtis Bausse. Her story is published in the competition anthology With Our Eyes Open, a sister anthology to Cat Tales (in which I have a story).
We’ll hopefully meet her at the Segora Presentation Weekend on 5th & 6th September – assuming that Monster Covid allows the event to take place – so this is our opportunity to get to know her better beforehand.
Without further ado, let’s have a round of applause for Sherry Morris, Segora short story judge 2020.
Q1: Sherry: you’re American, you live in Scotland and served for two years in the Peace Corps in Ukraine. Then you spent a year in Poland, followed by a spell in London. How has this travelling influenced your work (and have you found what you were looking for)?
Hmm! Good question. I never really thought about how my different locations might affect my writing. I tend to have a character in mind and try to capture her journey and voice.
I guess a lot of my characters have an American voice, but I don’t set out trying to write ‘American’ characters. I just try to make sure the voice is consistent and authentic. Sometimes I have to message my family back in the States asking ‘How does an American say this: …’ as I don’t always remember.
Q2: Yes, I’m sure a lot of us expatriated writers can relate to that. I see from your website that you’re a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Where does this interest in clouds come from?
Hah! Love this question! When I first came to London, I struggled with the lack of blue skies and sunny days. Then I stumbled upon the Cloud Appreciation Society and thought that might be a way to cope. Cloudy days became days to appreciate clouds, not mourn the lack of sun. I’ve been a member since 2006 and I’m still cloud crazy. I have a cloud badge, a cloud bag, cloud t-shirt, lots of cloud earrings. The clouds here in the Highlands are a-m-a-z-i-n-g. I’ve taken hundreds of photos of the clouds here.
Q3: You have an impressive list of published short fiction – I counted over 50 stories on your website. Can you tell us about your journey to success?
I doubt my journey is any different from anyone else’s really. I write and write and write, then edit and send my stuff out. I’ve changed this a bit, I suppose. As the rejections poured in, I spent more time editing and thinking about the story I wanted to tell. I also got supportive feedback friends.
My ‘success’ is full of rejection! I aim for 100 a year. It’s a bit like the clouds. I see rejections positively now. They don’t bother me so much any more. I know they lead to acceptances. Recently I heard a woman say, ‘No just means New Opportunity’. I don’t take it personally. It usually just means I’ve tried to rush the story or haven’t done my research to find the right fit. Smarter subbing is what I aim for now.
Q4: Do you have some favourite stories to share with us?
Yes. Of course I’m thrilled with my short story that Segora selected in 2018 and I quite like my short story ‘Miracles, Mercies and Mary… on Toast’. Funnily enough, my favourite pieces tend to come 2nd in competitions! Here are some links.
The Night Before Driving Back from a Camping Holiday, Mid-August 1977 2nd place, Retreat West 100-word competition (Aug 19)
‘The Trouble with Talking’; 2nd place, Barren Flash Fiction Prize 2019 (Feb 20)
‘The Squirrel House is Not Full of Nuts’; 2nd place, Grindstone International Flash Fiction Prize (Sep 19)
I realise these are flash or micros rather than short stories. I like stories with a strong clear voice (Trouble with Talking), interesting characters (Squirrel House), and that pack an emotional punch (Night Before Driving Back).
Q5: I was delighted to see the BBC recently selected you to join the 2020 Scottish Voices writer development programme. Can you tell us what’s involved?
Thanks! I have my partner to thank for that. He’s a talented writer who organises rehearsed readings, workshops and events for playwrights in our local area and always lets me tag along. He encouraged me to submit to the opportunity. I was completely gobsmacked when I heard I’d been selected, as I don’t consider myself a scriptwriter.
The BBC Writersroom Scotland chose 31 writers across Scotland to take part in their annual year-long development programme. The programme consists of masterclasses, script editing support, bespoke writing opportunities and networking. With the help of a mentor, I’ll write a bespoke piece for a BBC platform (radio or TV). The overall goal of the programme is to develop new writing talent for the BBC or any other production company.
Q6: You write both flash fiction and short stories. When you begin a new piece, do you already know which category it will fit into?
I might start by thinking I know, but it’s the story that dictates. I like to set out writing something for a competition or call, to give me parameters and a focus. But then the piece takes over and does its own thing. I used to try and dictate its length, but I’ve learned to get out of the way of the story. My writing’s getting longer. A lot of pieces that were initially micro flash do better at 1000 words and 1000 words do better as longer short stories. My short stories are getting longer too, which reassures me because, for my scriptwriting, I’ll need to write at least 30 pages.
Q7: Talking of longer work, do you think the skills for writing novels and short fiction are the same?
I’ve not yet been tempted to write a novel. They’re far too many words! But the principles strike me as the same. Who is your character? What do they want? What are they prepared to do to get it? I’ve been reading How To books on scriptwriting and the formula is the same. It’s only the format that differs.
Q8: I could ask you questions all day, but I’d better finish with one to reward people who have read this far down the blog post: in your opinion, what makes a story win a competition?
Killer question… the one that matters most to the readers, I suppose. It’s got to be memorable and connect with the reader in some way. For me, that means an authentic voice that’s character driven with some laughs and interesting use of language. A satisfying journey is also important. My own roaming days are over. I’ve found the place I want to be, but I still love hitching a ride with a strong story.
I’d like to thank Segora for giving me this opportunity and I look forward to reading loads of great stories!
And I’d like to thank you, Sherry, for your fascinating answers. Let’s hope that the Segora Presentation Day takes place so that we can meet you face to face.
Reminder: the Segora short story competition – for a short story of 1500-3000 words – closes on 15 June 2020. You can find full details on https://www.poetryproseandplays.com
Sherry Morris’s biography
Originally from America’s heartland, Missouri, Sherry Morris writes prize-winning flash fiction and short stories. She lives on a farm in the Scottish Highlands where she watches clouds, pets cows, goes for long walks and scribbles stories.
Selected by the BBC to join the 2020 Scottish Voices writer development programme, this will take her writing in new directions. She sits on the Board of Directors of the Highland literary magazine Northwords Now and reads for the wonderfully wacky Taco Bell Quarterly. Her first published short story was about her Peace Corps experience in Ukraine. Find her published work on www.uksherka.com and follow her on @Uksherka
(All the photos on this post belong to Sherry Morris, apart from the anthology book cover)