The second is our series of interviews with writers longlisted for the Sunderland Short Story Award, we’re very pleased to be able to ask a few questions of Marion Todd.
If you like what she says below (and you should, she’s awesome), you can check her out at @MarionETodd on Twitter.
Tell us a little about yourself
My home is in North East Fife, overlooking the River Tay, across to Dundee where I was born. I was happily married for many years, bringing up three children with my husband who was a DCI in the then Tayside Police, now Police Scotland. Sadly, he died when our three children were quite young so, while I had been writing throughout my twenties and thirties, this had to take a back seat to let me concentrate on the children. I then took up a post, lecturing at my local further education college where I stayed until taking early retirement at the end of 2016. With my children now in their twenties I have at last found the time to return to writing and I’m making up for lost time.
What are some of your favourite books?
As a youngster I cut my teeth on Enid Blyton, moving on to work my way through Agatha Christie’s repertoire. The book I return to time and time again is Kate Atkinson’s crime novel set in Edinburgh, One Good Turn. If I could plot like that I would die happy! I’ve recently enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I read a lot of crime, including all the greats (Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Stuart Macbride, James Oswald, Lin Anderson, Douglas Skelton) but have discovered I also love books by Anthony O’Neill, Clare Macleary, Abir Mukherjee, Michael J Malone and, of course, Graeme Macrae Burnet. For a change from crime I love the comedies of manners of E F Benson (The Mapp & Lucia books) and anything at all by Joanna Trollope. She transports me to a world I would love to inhabit.
Who or what are some of your writing inspirations?
The writers listed above have all inspired me. When I read a carefully-crafted novel I wish so much I had written it. I try to learn from, as well as enjoy my reading. Setting is important to me and I will often begin thinking of where a story will be set before considering the content. I like looking at buildings, farms, trees – all these can trigger an idea for a story.
Tell us a little about your writing journey so far
I think this could best be described as “fits and starts”. In common with most aspiring writers, I’ve written since I was at primary school but life has an annoying habit of getting in the way. In my role as a lecturer I wrote case studies for exam papers and very much enjoyed writing teaching manuals. I was also the go-to person when a difficult letter or reference had to be written – I loved it all. But the workload sapped my creative energies and, now I am retired, I have the head space to think creatively once more. On retiring I joined the newly-formed Waterstones Crime Book Group in Dundee. The experience of reading and meeting a different author each month has inspired me further. These days I am immersing myself in writing events and workshops, reading as much as I can, writing (of course) and networking via Twitter to increase my knowledge of the world of writing, editing and publishing. Since retiring, I have written two crime novels and several short stories. Currently I am working on a third crime novel and dabbling in other genres.
Why do you write?
My oldest son has Asperger’s Syndrome and he has a particular talent for writing. Two years ago, I helped him self-publish his debut novel, The Game of Grudges, on Kindle. I realised then that I too wanted to be published and that, if I didn’t get a move on, I’d be one of those people who said “I could have written a book” but never did. So, I decided to give it a go. A year and a half on and I can’t stop – my mind is constantly buzzing with ideas for stories and it seems a waste to ignore them! And, of course, who doesn’t want to walk into a bookshop and see their books on the front table? Hopefully one day.
What about any previous writing credits?
In 1987, I entered a Short Story for Children competition run by the now defunct Family Circle Magazine and won 1st prize, then a whopping £250! This inspired me to pursue my writing and I began attending a writers’ group. As a result, in the early 1990s I had two short sketches performed in the Café Bar of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, two short stories published in My Weekly magazine, pieces in my local newspaper and a poem in the magazine The Eildon Tree.
Why did you apply for the Sunderland Short Story Award?
Many years ago I read what I consider to be one of the finest short stories written: The Verger by Somerset Maugham. Reading this story, I realised what a different animal the short story is; how one simple thing can be the catalyst for major change but that it must all be told with brevity. Having written two full-length novels, I was keen to see if I could encapsulate a story in so few words. My first attempt at my Sunstory entry was 900 words over so even more judicious editing was required. I am still finding my feet as a writer and keen to explore a variety of genres, including the short story, to find the best fit for my writing. Entering this competition gave me both a time limit and a word limit to work towards which helped focus my writing.
Have you entered any other literary awards?
I have also submitted a story to the Scottish Arts Club Short Story Competition – the shortlist is expected in late August.
What would it mean to you to be shortlisted? Or to win?
Oh my goodness! Being longlisted is already an enormous boost to my confidence. As an unpublished, writer I live with constant self-doubt – I think we all do. I have told only close family and a couple of friends that I am writing because I’m afraid people will think I’m kidding myself about my chances of becoming a published author. But now, I can say that I have been longlisted for a national competition which makes me think maybe I do have a tiny chance of success. To be shortlisted or even to win the prize would perhaps give me the confidence to think of myself as a writer. And there’s another bonus: often, when submitted sample chapters of a novel to publishers, they ask for a Writing CV. Mine is fairly thin at present but to be able to add Sunstory to that CV might encourage them to read my submission more optimistically. There is also a degree of prestige attached to competitions run by organisations such as Universities and High Street Bookshops which would make winning the competition all the sweeter.