As writers, we often rely on our peers for advice, comment, even insight relating to our output. I suspect there are few other occupations as mutually supportive as the writing community.
I recently submitted a short story, written some years earlier, to a small print magazine, Scribble, that publishes quarterly. The idea is that subscribers comment on, and place, the submitted stories to arrive at three prize winners for each edition.
In the 92 edition, my story appeared. ‘Bus Pass George’ was a short story that came about due to my meeting an unknown character at the local bus station when I was able to work only part time and unable to drive because of ME/CFS. I used to see this old man, always alone, apparently lonely, as I waited for my bus to return home. After a few encounters with mutual greetings, I engaged him in conversation. He seemed so grateful for human contact that I felt bad for not having tried earlier. It turned out to be my only chance. He never reappeared, and enquiries of the regular bus driver uncovered the fact he’d died in unusual circumstances.
I wanted to make him a character in a story, and ‘Bus Pass George’ was the result. The story involved the old man as a friendless character, much maligned by his unsympathetic mother and now living alone. His inherent sadness I conveyed through a series of events deliberately open to misinterpretation. Looked at in one light, he could appear as a paedophile, but seen through the eyes of experience, he could also be seen as a lonely man wishing he’d been a father. The ending of the story made it clear which he was and celebrated his self-sacrifice.
Comments made by readers of the magazine were interesting in what they revealed about the commentators and what they told me about my story. In many cases, I was placed 1st, in others 2nd, and in others 3rd. There were others who didn’t place the story but referred to it in terms that made me wonder if they’d read to the end, where the truth became evident. I place no blame on those who felt unable to reach the conclusion: the story was written to set doubts in the reader’s mind, after all. And sensitive souls may well have feared for the worse regarding the child who also featured in the story.
What those comments demonstrated to me was both positive and negative. I’ve always tended to ask a lot of my readers, rarely feeding them easy matter, and often dealing with contentious themes. The comments showed me that, while I was successful at conveying the truth to the more rational mind, I was failing to manage that for some with a more emotionally sensitive outlook. But the comments were, in the majority, supportive and positive, with some admiration, especially for my bravery in tackling such a subject. Food for thought. But, now 73, I suspect I’m unlikely to soften the nature of my writing and will probably have to live with the fact that some readers will miss out on my writing simply because I’m sometimes too brutally honest for comfort.
Just to let you know, my story was placed 2nd and I received a small cash prize.
If you want to try the magazine for yourself, you’ll find it available by post here. I doubt you’ll be able to get a copy of the issue containing my story, unless you ask for it by number (92), in which case the editor/owner may possibly have a back copy to send.
3 thoughts on “Lessons from our Peers.”
It’s always a great feeling to get paid for your stories. Articles are one thing, but stories are another level of wow, at least for me. Great stuff, Stuart!
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Thanks, Stuart. It’s a while since I submitted a short story for either a contest or publication, so it was great to have this received in a positive way. I’ll have to do some more.. I must have around 400 short stories written and never submitted anywhere!
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