An Interview with Kristy_Matthews - Winner of the December Challenge


Cast your mind back to December, when the weather was warmer and we were all chuckling to ourselves about having 'skipped winter this year'...

There's no way we were ever really going to get away with that one now, were we? 

Well, if there's one good thing snow's for, its got to be the excuse it provides to light a fire, stay inside, and read a book (or three). If you haven't already had the opportunity to read through December's festive challenge entries, now you've got the perfect excuse!

The brief for our December Challenge was purposefully broad, asking only that entrants included a character named Carol, and some kind of Christmas-themed festivities. As usual, we received a massively dynamic range of entries, including a mixture of soppy traditional tales, sarcastic commentary, sadistic murder, and sentimentality. The quality was such that the judges had a challenging task on their hands just to whittle it down to the final five runners up, and one winner!

Luckily, this month the judges' initial round of voting drew a unanimous winner, which was a rather unexpected christmas gift to themselves. Thanks literary Santa!

Perhaps Santa found himself a victim 
of the digital revolution, with his robot 
replacement running an OS called Carol...
Writing a festive tale can be something that many writers actively avoid - and it's easy to understand why. Often filled with cliché and dog-eared phrases, even the traditional festive story-arcs have long been feeling a little flat. Each year authors must face an increasingly challenging juggling act between originality and tradition. On one hand, you don't want to bore the reader with familiarity, so some kind of originality is required; but nor do you want to unwittingly offend anyone by disrespecting their beliefs through your witty take on the Yule-tide festivities.

So what should you do?

Here are a few things to consider about cliché before you finish constructing your literary master plan for Festive Domination: 2016

Cliché (which of course is usually 'avoided like the plague'), suddenly becomes annoyingly relevant when you settle down to write a themed or festive story. In fact, it becomes more than relevant, because to make something seem 'festive' you've almost definitely got to conform to some of the tropes that people expect to find in a festive story; ergo: cliché.

But writing good cliché is really difficult, especially because it goes against everything that you're 'supposed' to do as a good, original writer. So dial down the gag reflex, and start channeling the sparkly, peace-loving, tinsel-mentality. Or should you?

To write good cliché you need to be careful, take a good long think about what it is that you're looking to portray and make it believable. Cliché is often negatively received by the reader because it a) makes the reader more able to guess what's about to happen in your story, or b) it makes the story itself become unbelievable because the writing is just a little too warm and fuzzy for anyone to actually be able to relate to, realistically.

Obviously everyone knows what it's like to be a billionaire mouse though...
So remember to use cliché sparingly, but place it well. Don't be hesitant to make a miracle happen, but do make sure that it's something that could actually happen within the realms of your story.

A good thing to keep in mind, is that cliché has become so because it's popular. People like to read stories that have a happy ending. People actually - shock, horror - like for things to turn out well. It's ok to have a happy ending, but what's not okay is to drown it in sweet sticky toffee, chuck it in a bin full of tinsel and make it dance like a puppet to the tune of Silent Night. Although thinking about it, that might make quite a funny story...

The winner of our December Challenge, Kristy_Matthews, developed a story that had just the right balance, plus that little bit extra...

Congratulations to all of our entrants in the December Challenge, especially our five runners up!

The Annunciation by RJ_Urquhart | Carol's Swansong by Ernest_Lee | Ein Weinachtsleid by Nina_Lee | A Carol's Carol by W_Miles_Bell | Avoidance by girl bird

Kristy_Matthews was kind enough to have a chat with us about her entry. Read on below to find out how she developed her story, how she approached dealing with the treatment of such an emotional subject matter, and how she grounded her story in a relatable reality for her readers.

WEbook: Hi Kristy, thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your winning submission in our December Challenge: ‘It’s Christmas, Carol’. 

Your story is a sad, but also heart-warming tale that explores themes of love, loss, the strength of family, and of different ways to deal with grief. We see Gertrude, the grandma, smelling of whiskey, the mum who wants to have the perfect Christmas and the daughter who doesn’t quite want to face the day. The story itself is realistic, and by stripping it back to the daily annoyances of life – such as putting on the washing – it becomes not only believable to the reader, but also a very poignant portrayal of how despite the loss of a loved one, the world keeps turning. 

When you were planning this story, did you find yourself drawing on personal experience, or did you use research to inspire you?

Kristy_Matthews: Well, Christmas for me was always an interesting time. My father was in the military, but my parents were divorced. So growing up, I only got one parent to spend it with. Even though grandpa's sisters didn't drink, my aunts were very similar to Aunt Trudy. But I also come from a military family.

My brother was in Afghanistan and while he was over there this scenario has become a very real possibility. I helped my sister raise my nephew while he was over there, the holidays were an emotional mess. I really wanted to reflect on the sacrifice that soldiers have to go through, but also, what their families go through. Especially over the big holidays, it's one of the hardest things for everyone in that situation, and everyone tries to be strong when they don't think they can anymore.

WB: Christmas is a time, traditionally, for family and togetherness. When one of the constants is removed from this experience – in this case the death of the MC’s father - it inevitably creates instability and sometimes fracture within the lives of the people that are left. In your story, you initially distance your MC from the action, before placing her at the forefront. By doing this you hint at these fractures being healed, and create an emotionally satisfying ending to the story for the reader. 

Do you think that it’s important to create these healing moments when writing emotional pieces such as this? If so, why?

KM: I definitely believe that having a healing moment is important. They are there throughout life. Life can go along being absolutely horrible, and I think often times people forget that it's the small things that make it worth it. People forget that the small healing moments in life are essentially what makes it worth it. It makes it way more real, but it also makes it so the piece is readable and you aren't a complete emotional wreck after it's over.

WB: The rebelliousness of your MC seems on first reading to be simply the standard fare of a teenager, but upon a second or a third reading it becomes clear that this is not entirely the case. Firstly, we have the mixing of the dark and light laundry, the threat of them mixing to turn the light dark. Then, we have the black t-shirt she chose to wear – replaced by the green sweater her mother selects, a colour symbolising life – then finally the dark ribbon used as a choker. 

Did you intentionally use these as symbols of the MC’s grief in your story, or was it coincidental?

KM: Well, a lot of these small things are actually experiences I've had with my own mother. I was a very angsty teenager. It was much to my mother's chagrin when I'd mix laundry or try to wear black clothing and heavy makeup to family holidays. Green is her favorite color so often times when she would choose my clothing green is what she'd choose. But I also like the psychology behind colors. Green is a calm color, it's the color of harmony and balance, it symbolizes hope, renewal, peace. And that's exactly what her mother needed at the time. But the dark ribbon and clothing also show that she's depressed and trying to kind of wreak havoc on her mother's emotions to make herself feel better, while trying to express herself and who she is at that point in time.

WB: What kinds of fiction do you usually write? Can you tell us about something you are working on, or maybe something you’ve already finished?

KM: I usually write romance, very woman-oriented books. Right now I'm actually working on something a little bit different. It's called Leap of Faith, and the basic idea behind it is that souls are not tied to any one body or "shell" as they're referred to in the book. So it's about a soul's journey to find the right shell made for it, which only comes about every millennium. It's going to give a lot of insight in the war of what the body and soul want, but also, things like schizophrenia and Deja Vu are explained. I don't want to ruin it, but I definitely look forward to finishing it. I have a good friend who is editing it every time I finish a chapter, then I'm gonna try and get it published because I definitely think that this book will not only be entertaining but might help someone who needs extra inspiration to get through what they're going through.

WB: Who is your favourite writer on WEbook and why?

Favorites are always really hard for me to choose. I don't know if I really have one. I enjoy many people's writing and what they bring to the table. Everyone has a unique view and they express it differently and writing is so beautiful because it shows how that person thinks and feels, you can see their undertones and it really helps you get to know what they're thinking and feeling. I may not have a favorite, per say, but I love everyone's here because I appreciate them for their beautiful uniqueness.

WB: What are your favourite books or authors, and how have they influenced your writing?

KM: Well, right now I'm reading Harry Potter. I love the Harry Potter universe so much and Jo has made such an influence on my life between her writing and what she did to accomplish what she did. But she also is so influential because she started off in a very similar place I did. We both loved to write and young ages, we both lost a parent--not in the same way but still, we've both been in abusive relationships, we both have been in the same financial situation... so looking at her and seeing where she now gives me hope, not only as a reader but as a writer as well. It gives me hope that someone might see my story and love it, and then by some magic I can touch millions of people's lives with my work. I'll probably never be as big as her, but it's definitely my dream to at least touch one person with my work. I also enjoy the Luxe novels, I'm rather obsessed with the American Victorian era. I really just like to read, I love books and the knowledge they can bring but also the fact that you can completely escape into another world because of them.

WB: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us about your winning entry Kristy! We look forwards to reading many more of your entries over the months to come.

If you haven't already had the chance to read Kristy's winning entry in full, you can still find it on WEBook, along with all of the other entries in the challenge. 

Don't forget that the January Challenge: Below the Surface is open to submissions until 31st Jan... 

Good luck!

Happy reading!

Hannah from the WEbook Team

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