An Interview with the October Challenge Winner - SideShowShannon


Our October Challenge was one of intrigue. And it was also a little bit like a computer game for those who can remember computer games before all the fancy-pants graphics we have nowadays. Give us a bit of Zork and interactive fiction any day. Actually, if mention of interactive fiction has given you a bit of a lust for escaping into the past, we've found a couple of great places online that you can relive your childhood (or for those of you who are wondering what the hell we're on about, to explore some digital history). 

There is of course, the aforementioned Zork which you can play online here, then there's the brilliant BBC  30th anniversary game of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (this one is HARD), or Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur because everyone loves a sword adventure.

But anyway, back to the topic in hand. The October Challenge started off with the premise of a character being alone in a room, with a window, a door, a fireplace and a wardrobe. Each entrant had 850 words to use in their story - some chose to use these words to stay put, others chose to use them for escape. What we were left with was a smorgasbord of brilliant takes on the theme or idea of abandonment, including emotional abandonment, abandonment of the self, and abandonment by loved ones. Well done to everyone who entered! 

So, maybe you're feeling a little inspired right now to write your own tale of abandonment? Well lucky for you we've compiled a veritable list of tips and tricks to get your story off on the right foot. 

1) Writing is a solitary pursuit, so you're probably already halfway there with your assessment of loneliness and solitude. It can also be incredibly helpful to write in solitude, if you haven't already tried it, do.

2) If your (writer's) loneliness doesn't match up to the depths of despair that you want to portray, consider reading a couple of articles written by people on the topic of loneliness. Make sure you get a good mixture of viewpoints from various sources so that you can build up a good picture.

3) Pick your vocabulary well. Being abandoned or writing about solitude doesn't always have to conform to negative language, many people enjoy being alone. Perhaps they are glad they've finally been abandoned by a controlling or dependent friend or partner and now they're free to live the life they've always wanted. 

4) If you're feeling lonely, then talk to someone about it (that's not really a writing tip, but it's a good thing to remember)

The winner of October's Challenge was SideShowShannon with her beautiful entry Her Final Day. Congratulations to Shannon on winning the challenge, and congratulations also go to our five runners up:

Shannon was kind enough to have a chat with us about her entry. Read on below to find out more about how she went about crafting her entry and the influences she took from her own life...

WEbook: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Shannon! 

Your story focusses on themes of loss, love, the maternal bond versus the familial bond, emptiness and the construct of the 'home'. When you were sitting down to write this piece, did you find that the combination of these themes came together naturally, or were you actively trying to incorporate them with each other as a wider construct for your story? 

SideShowShannon: Honestly, I didn’t put any thought into weaving it together. Writing this actually felt natural, even though I’ve never experienced anything like it. The first thing I did was decide what I wanted the house to look like, and I always pictured something old, with secrets. From there I gave the house a new secret and in a couple of hours I had my story. 

WB: Your story has an overreaching sense of emptiness; we see the half-empty wardrobe, the 'pretty much' empty room, the newly empty womb and then finally the empty pill bottle. This acts in direct contrast to the the home that the MC is in, as this is traditionally seen as a place of safety and full of life. 

Using the opposition of strong human emotions that (almost) everyone can relate to is a powerful - but ultimately tricky - way to construct a story. How did you approach your exploration of the MC's emotions in contrast to the home that she finds herself trapped within? 

SS: That was harder for me because I had to become a teenager forced to grow up too soon. I have absolutely no personal experience when it comes to her loss, but when I was 17 my family suffered a tragedy that we’re still licking our wounds from. I remember exactly how I felt then and projected those feelings into the story. It was very therapeutic, and I was actually pretty spent when I finished. 

WB: Your story follows the MC as she acknowledges a shift in her emotions, and subsequently her perception of what truly matters changes as she tells her story. Where once the material things that she couldn't have were what mattered, by the end her desire for these things pales in insignificance to the loss of her child. 

How did you plan this shift when writing your story, and do you have any tips for other writers who might like to incorporate a similar transition in their work.

SS: That shift wasn’t planned, I seriously sat down and didn’t look up or take a breath until the last word was written. But, I’ve also experienced that moment when my shift in focus went deeper and with more intention. 

WB: You mention religion in your story, using Sister Anne to ask God to forgive Mia's sins. But, she is also a realistic Sister, because she asks Mia to ask for forgiveness from herself. This suggests that she can sense an unhappiness in Mia, and is perhaps worried about Mia's mental state, especially considering the the references to the unspecified pills that Mia must take. 

Was this focus on prayer, God and forgiveness a way to distract the reader from Mia's final act, which is in the eyes of religion, a sinful one?

SS: I grew up in the South, where religion is big. I chose Catholicism because I grew up Baptist wishing I’d been Catholic. I also added religion because it’s a common reason for parents to send their daughter away when she’s in this situation. 

I chose to surround Mia with women that she grew to love and trust because she’s a teenage girl; they crave it. I hated the thought of her being rejected and sent away by her parents then being placed with wardens who punished her for her mistake. I never planned on her committing suicide, but at some point in the story I decided that she wouldn’t want to return to a family who cast her out and to a life without her new baby and the women who helped her survive her pregnancy. 

WB: Who are your favourite WEbook authors, and why?

SS: I haven’t gotten the chance to read a Webook but I’m looking forward to finding a favorite! 

WB: What are your three favourite books or authors and why?

SS: I am addicted to Stephen King - It is my absolute favorite. The relationships between The Losers reminded me of growing up in my neighborhood. I’m still close to the kids from my ‘hood!  I love reading scary stories- I even like some of my nightmares! 

VC Andrews’ series have always fascinated me as well. Her true original books still line my shelves. I came from a dysfunctional family so reading about those lunatics made me feel a lot better about my situation. 

WB: How did you discover WEbook?

SS: I’ve had a WEbook account for years, but I don’t remember how I found it! I’ve always loved writing and really enjoy having an outlet where I can read other pieces and have my own critiqued.

WB: Thanks again for chatting with us Shannon, we look forwards to reading many more of your entries over the coming months!

Don't forget that the December Challenge, It's Christmas, Carol is open to entries now! 
Get yours in before the end of the month to be in with a  chance of winning the top prize!

- The WEbook Team

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