Interview With 2nd Place Runner Up - EJ Robinson

Hello EJ Robinson! Can I call you EJ or do you have a first name I can call you by? 

Hello, my name’s Eileen and the J is from my middle name, but I was never keen on Eileen. 

When I decided to make a go of getting into writing I didn’t want to publish under my given name, so I abbreviated myself forever more.

So well done on winning 2nd prize with A light Supper With Friends this year.  How do you feel about that?

Thank you! Well, any competition I enter I have my eyes on top podium (I’m competitive!), but recognition from Exeter Writers feels great and certainly did a lot for my morale as feedback was so complimentary, which I was grateful for. 

Writing can be lonely and emotionally draining, so winning second prize had the effect of driving over one of those speed boosts in Super Mario Kart. It gave me a surge of energy to keep going :) 

Tell us a little about A Light Supper With Friends. Where did you get the idea to write this story?

I originally wrote it for another competition where the theme was food and drink. I wracked my brain for an interesting idea, decided to write about a famous meal since so many great dramas centre around meal tables, and honed in on the most famous meal of all time. 

When I thought about it, a dinner attended solely by men at that point in history, those men wouldn’t have prepared their own meal, so who was in the kitchen? And there was the idea. 

It didn’t place in the competition I wrote it for, but I knew it was a good story, so entered it to Exeter Writers, who agreed with me!

How do you approach the writing process? What advice do you have for other short story writers? 

I tell other people what I’m working on. That way, if I don’t want to be embarrassed the next time I see them, I’d better have worked on it so I have something new to say. 

I’ve never been shy about sharing work, even when it’s embarrassing, although I understand many people hesitate to do so. My advice to other short story writers would be to share work with trusted others who’ll give you good feedback as much as possible. 

I didn’t really start to see improvements in my work until other people started pointing out that I was wallowing in pointless vocabulary, or rambling on about something of tremendous interest to me but no relevance to the story. 

When you think you’ve done something great, other people remind you a writer can never take a reader’s attention for granted.

Some of our readers may not have read your story yet. Can you sum it up in a sentence or two? Tell us why they should go and read it now!

It’s hard to talk about without spoiling it, so to be short: A man sits down with his writer friends for dinner. His wife and mother ensure it’s the best meal they’ll ever review. They all get drunk and cry.

Do you have any other short stories published elsewhere that our readers can check out? 

I’ve had other short stories published in Writers’ Forum and in various anthologies, but no others online, I’m afraid. 

Who is your writing inspiration? 

Stephen King. Don’t know how he does it, but I can only dream of being that prolific and that readable. Rarely has a surname been so appropriate.

Do you have any writing heroes or favourite authors?

Favourite authors? Roald Dahl. He’s there for you when you’re a child, writing about clever little girls and peaches flying to New York. Then a whole different Road Dahl is waiting for you when you grow up, writing about lust and bitches and wife-swapping. 

Shirley Jackson, also. Boy, can that woman do atmosphere. She has a short story called The Summer People where, on the surface, everything happening is totally ordinary. Just a couple going about their day. And yet, without her saying anything explicitly, you get to the end of the story sick with dread on the couple’s behalf. It’s delicious. 

I also try to read widely across cultures, and a fantastic Japanese short story writer, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, is also someone I’d recommend whose work is easy to find in good translations. He’s the bloke who wrote Rashōmon, his short stories are ace.

Who has influenced your writing the most? 

Chuck Palahniuk. His essays on writing I go back to again and again, and he had a writing book come out this year called Consider This, which I’ve added to my toolbox. 

However, my background is in theatre, and there are certain plays and playwrights I’m more likely to refer to than prose writers when I feel really stuck. Plays are invaluable because they’re so concise and of course, when learning to write dialogue, they’re invaluable.

Have you ever taken any courses in creative writing and if so are there any that you would recommend? 

I have taken a six month course a few years ago, which I didn’t find very helpful at all. I’m sure some courses can be helpful, especially for nuts and bolts of story building. Nothing has helped me more than sharing stories with friends. 

I’m also a member of a writing website called Scribophile that any writer can join, though there’s a monthly charge. You can upload stories or novels for others to feedback on, and you can critique the work of others.

How has lockdown impacted your writing?

I’m a hard-working tour guide by trade, and tourism has taken a huge hit during lockdown, which isn’t great. On the upside, lockdown has given me time to write, and enabled me to make a happy discovery: I actually work better when taking frequent breaks. 

During normal working life when free time is sparse, if I had a full day free, I’d stay at the desk all day, and usually end feeling groggy or frustrated that I hadn’t done as much as I wanted to. Turns out it’s easier to be productive when taking regular breaks. I’d always heard rumours…

Talk to us about your writing routine, what does an ordinary writing day look like for you?

I’m not big on routine, just doesn’t work for me personally. I write everyday, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. That’s my routine: write something everyday.

Any parting words of wisdom or encouragement for budding authors reading this?

Keep writing. Don’t let anything put you off. The only writer that fails is the writer who quits.

Thanks very much Eileen for chatting to us and best of luck for the future.

Interview conducted by Jessica Triana de Ford member of Exeter Writers, Interviewer and Reviewer for Loudstuff Blog, and Freelance Copywriter.