Tag Archives: Curtis Bausse

Sherry for Segora

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.

The Interview

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)

Catless

The thing about cats is that, well… they’re furry, aren’t they? Which is a good and a bad thing.

Good: because there’s nothing like stroking the smooth fur of an arching back for a taste of tactile pleasure. I’m talking about cats’ backs, here. And if they purr while I’m doing it… that’s my day made.

cats-for-dinnerAnd bad: because my partner is allergic to fur. So when we got together I had to choose between my cats and the new man in my life. Or dishing up the cats for dinner. Look, they’re all ready!

Several years after I gave my cats away, the fluffy devil came to tempt us again. This time it was the children who pleaded for a kitten of their very own (“promise we’ll take care of it, Mummy”). I explained they would have to choose between a furry pet and their Papa. After suggestions of sleeping in the garage (their Papa, not the desired kitten), they agreed that life was hard and full of difficult decisions to make. And they waited a whole week before asking again.

So, being catless, I found the most obvious solution. No, not borrowing the neighbour’s cat for secret stroking. And not giving up my job to work in a cat shelter. I wrote about them. Subconsciously.

There was a cat in my Novel Zero. There’s a cat in my short story Quark Soup. And there’s a cat – called Acrobat – in Tree Magic. The lovely literary agent who read Tree Magic many years ago said she loved the parts about Acrobat best (but didn’t represent YA authors). I find there’s something about a cat that completes a mental picture of a person or a place.

tini-with-montyWhen I wrote Tree Magic, there was a special cat in my mind. Here he is, Monty, in the early 1980s with my little sister (sorry about the quality – it was my first ever camera). In Tree Magic, this is what Acrobat does when Rainbow first meets him, which is why she calls him Acrobat (soon shortened to Batty or Bats). Acrobat is actually ginger.

It was only when I entered Curtis Bausse‘s Book a Break competition, however, that cats became the protagonists in a story. In his novel One Green Bottle, Curtis had written that two tabby cats deserted his protagonist. The cats’ story was never told. So, for the competition, Curtis gave us the paragraph and asked us to tell him about the two tabbies. It didn’t need to have any link to One Green Bottle – which was just as well, as I hadn’t read it at that point. (Having now read it, I’d thoroughly recommend this crime story set in France).

Here’s Curtis’s paragraph:

A long time ago, when life was tolerable, almost good, he had two cats that kept him company. How old was he? Seven? Eight? Before his father began to question the worth of his existence. Back then, presumably, he was cute, almost as cute as the tabbies. He never knew what happened to them but they disappeared, both of them, all of a sudden, and he was left only with an inconsolable sadness.

My story, Three Goddesses, is about the way cats make a place feel like home and how they can bring people together. Or not.

Atthys J. Gage, author of Flight of the Wren, Spark and Whisper Blue, judged the competition, after which Curtis spent loads of time compiling his favourite 21 stories into an anthology.

51irj8ydbpl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Like T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (on which the musical Cats was based) the anthology contains cats – and stories – of very different types. From spooky to cultural to historic, there’s something to suit every feline taste. Curtis himself has also contributed, via the cat ‘Smith, Terror of Taunton’, who writes the preface. I’d like to meet Smith. He seems to have a great sense of humour.

So here we are, at the objective of this furry, purry blog post: the illustrated ebook and paperback versions of Cat Tales will be on sale tomorrow, 15th December 2016, here on Amazon. The proceeds go to two charities: Against Malaria Foundation and Cats Protection. There’s also a facebook page where you can leave your comments and follow news of the contributing authors.

Many thanks to Curtis for organising the competition and the anthology. It’s been fun to work with the other writers.

Breaking news: next year’s Book A Break competition to win a weekend in Provence is now open. The deadline is 19th February 2017, the length 2000 words and the theme is The Journey (prompt: “They had a long journey ahead of them.”). 2016 winner, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, will judge the competition and winners will be announced on 19th March. There are more details on Curtis Bausse’s website here.

Threes

“What comes in threes?” I asked my family at the dinner table last night.

“Triplets,” said one daughter.

“Granola biscuits,” said the other.

“Petits cochons,” said my husband. “Et les Trois Mousquetaires.” (He’s French)

This was much more fun than arguing about who left the tap running or why we’ve banned mobile phones from our bedrooms.

“Buy 2, get one free. Star Wars trilogies. 3 Cheers. Triathalons. Christopher Columbus’s 3 ships, Triple Leffe beer,” my family continued (I’ll leave you to guess who said what).

“The 3 parts of the ear. Darts. The boyband Two be Three – or was it Free? Three times a lady. World War 3.”

Actually, there’s a lot you can learn about people from their brainstorming ideas. I must remember to try this during aperitifs with friends.

Triple jump. Three-leafed clover. A trouple (what’s that? I asked. A couple, but with three people in it, my 13-year old replied. They learn a lot at school in France).

yippee before“Anyway, why do you want to know?” they asked, around dessert time, when things had passed from ridiculous into boring.

The thing is, I was looking for a title for this post. I wanted to use ‘Good News Comes in Threes’, but the grammar devil sitting on my shoulder (drinking a cocktail) swiped me around the ear and growled that news was an uncountable noun and so I couldn’t have three of them.

I considered ignoring him. It’s fun to ignore your grammar devil from time to time, as long as you’re good at dodging his swipes. Then I thought of all the grammar devils sitting on your shoulders – you who are reading this – and I got a bit scared.

Good News sounded too biblical. And ‘Three Pieces of Good News’ was too long and finicky. (As you can see, I have an issue with titles). So I thought about Curtis Bausse’s agent friend, Sydney Lushpile from the Books Ahoy Literary Agency, and cut it to one word.

You may have gathered that I’ve received some good news this month.yippee

Firstly, one of my short stories is going to be published in the October issue of The French Literary Review. This journal is edited by poet Barbara Dordi, and invites submissions with a French connection. Contributors include Ann Drysdale, David Pollard and Katherine Gallagher.

By the way, you can meet Katherine Gallagher at the excellent St.Clementin Literary festival in the Deux-Sèvres on 24, 25 & 26 June. This festival promises inspiration, with special guests including Patricia Duncker and Lemn Sissay. I’ll be there, playing the groupie and learning from the greats.

Secondly, my short story ‘Three Goddesses’ – you’d think I had a bit of a fetish for threes at the moment – is going to be published in a competition anthology. It’s being edited by Curtis Bausse (yes, him again. You should check out his blog if you like a good laugh) and is full of cool stories about cats.

And thirdly… well, I’ll come back to you later about this even more exciting one. (Take that, Grammar Devil).