Interview with Frances Ridley - A Short Story Competition Prize Winner 2021

Hi Frances, you won third prize in our competition this year with your story The Weird Event. What were you doing when you found out? How did you feel?

I was walking home from town and I checked my phone. I didn’t believe it, and had to stop under an awning to read it properly. (It was raining. I live near Manchester.) I felt very happy, but also worried that someone would email later to say that it was all a mistake.


It’s very unusual for us to receive sci-fi stories, so it was refreshing to read not just a different genre, but a story with a strong female lead. Tell us about your story. Where did you get the idea to write it?

I like reading sci-fi. I loved John Wyndham when I was younger, and I also enjoy Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson and Iain M. Banks. The idea came from a picture of a probe landing on the far side of the Moon. I liked the idea of the probe up there and ‘seeing’ things that we could never see for ourselves. Lynn is based on friends of mine who have had to fight for the right to be heard and respected at work.


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


The most important thing is to make the time for it. This was hard for me, because I felt guilty, as if it was a waste of time. Now, I try to write for two hours every day, first thing in the morning. It might not be possible for everyone to do that, but it’s important to schedule something in – it could be half an hour every day, or maybe the whole of Saturday morning. The thing is, to make regular time for it.


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 The Weird Event now!


My story is about the importance of creativity. It’s about making space and time for development and growth, and sticking up for your right to do that. I hope that people will read it and feel empowered.


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


My short story The Exhibition won first prize in a Writers’ Forum short story competition, and was published in their April 2021 magazine. 


What, in life, gives you inspiration? People, places, facts things?  


All those things. I have a notebook, and if an idea comes for a story I write it in there. Sometimes, I don’t have an idea for ages. Then a few ideas will come all at once.


Do you have any writing heroes or favourite authors? Who has influenced your writing the most?


There are so many. I love the classics, Jane Austen, the Brontes, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, EM Forster. Favourite books include The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West. Recent novels I’ve enjoyed include Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, The Dutch House by Anne Patchett, Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt and Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami.  I can’t choose in terms of influence, but I think Jane Austen is a model of economy. She doesn’t waste a word.


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

Pre-Covid, I went to the Poetry Business Workshops at the Manchester Art Gallery, which I would thoroughly recommend. Since Covid, I have gone to the online versions of these workshops. I also went to a Write Club Zoom workshop on story structure, which was excellent. 


Do you have any weird quirks to your writing routine? Tell us what an ordinary writing day looks like for you?

I’m not sure if it’s a weird quirk, but I do love beautiful notebooks. They make the whole writing process very pleasurable – although I have to use more down-to-earth notebooks too, because they are more economical. My writing routine is, basically, sit down for two hours and write – but that includes research and planning, as well as actual writing.

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

Don’t wait for inspiration to strike, just start writing. Write about anything, it doesn’t matter. Just write and write and write.

Thanks for talking to us Frances. It was a pleasure. Best of luck for the future.


Jessica Triana de Ford is Exeter Writers Blog Manager, and co-ordinates content as well as edits submissions. She loves being part of a supportive writing group and being in a position to help support other creatives find the courage to express their ideas. You can find out more and connect with Jessica on LinkedIn and Twitter.