Interview with Lucy Banks - 2021 Devon Prize Winner
Hello Lucy, great job winning this year's Devon Prize with The Shuck. We were particularly struck by how well you captured the sense of place on Dartmoor, a place we all love very much.
Tell us how you felt when you found out you’d won.
It was brilliant to hear I’d won. I’ve been wrestling with short story-writing for years, so it was lovely to feel like I was finally getting somewhere with it. Short story writing is an art-form in itself, and nowhere near as easy as it looks!
Tell us about The Shuck. Where did you get the idea?
I love Dartmoor and all its associated folklore. I was reading up about the Shuck a while back, and loved the image of this hulking black dog with red eyes, stalking hapless travellers across the moors. Plus, as a city girl, I wanted to explore that tension between town and country.
We received lots of stories this year outside of the usual genres and it’s great to be able to award a prize to a thriller story. What advice do you have for writers who want to write a thriller for a competition?
I start by thinking about what I want the reader to feel by the end of the story – what journey they’ll take, and how I can make it an engrossing, exciting one. I’d recommend thinking about what genuinely makes us nervous, anxious, or frightened as humans – and inject some of that into the tale, for added authenticity.
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!
Maddie believes she’ll escape the trauma of her mugging experience by moving to Dartmoor, but she wasn’t prepared for the hostility of the landscape, nor its locals. The only way to fit in is to become the predator, not prey – and to echo the behaviour of the legendary Shuck.
Lucy you’re author of urban fantasy series Dr Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural. Tell us a little about that.
The Dr Ribero series was so much fun to write. Someone described it a while back as ‘Ghostbusters with a British accent’ – which is pretty much bang on the money! They’re all entertaining, lighthearted books, and I have to admit, I got attached to all the characters; it was a wrench to say goodbye to them! I’ve just finished writing the final one, which will be out in the latter months of 2022.
I’ve also got another book coming out next year with Sandstone Press, called Caged Little Birds – I’m very excited about that, as it’ll be the first time I’ve been published in the UK.
You’re also a copywriter. Tell us a little about your writing career and how you were able to earn a living from writing. Many of our readers are aspiring writers so any words of wisdom you have to share would be most welcome!
Ironically, I’ve just taken on a new role – but I was a copywriter for over a decade. It was a great job, I’d recommend it to anyone who likes writing about a varied range of topics. I started via a site called Elance (now Upwork) – a great place to pick up work and develop a reputation. Also, I’d recommend being proactive. Get in touch with businesses and offer your services – probably several would be itching to hear from you!
You’re originally from Hertfordshire, what brought you to Devon? Do you have a favourite place in our fair county? What’s the best part of living in Devon for you?
I’ve always loved the south-west, I used to come down here a lot as a child. Then I happened to marry a man from Taunton, so we decided to move down here together… and we’ve never looked back! I love everything about Devon; the diverse landscapes, the friendly people, its distinct personality – it’s been great living here.
Do you have any writing heroes or favourite authors?
There are so many authors I love – Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Mary Shelley – the list could go on and on! I’d probably cite my biggest inspiration as David Bowie, though. I know he’s not an author, but I was so inspired by his chameleonic style, and his refusal to be pigeon-holed. He was always willing to push the boundaries too. I think there’s a good lesson there, to always step a little bit out of your comfort zone when writing, as that’s where the truly interesting stuff lies!
How has the pandemic affected your writing?
It’s been up and down. I’ve had periods of frenzied writing (very cathartic!) and months of feeling completely blocked up. I’ve tried to ride with it as much as possible – it’s been a strange time for everyone, and probably the best thing we can all do is cut ourselves some slack.
Any parting words of wisdom or encouragement for budding authors reading this?
Keep going with it. Keep trying. Never quit, even if you get rejections and set-backs – because everyone does. I try to see every piece of writing I do as a chance to learn and get better – to figure out what didn’t work (and why) and how to improve on it.
Definitely don’t be disheartened if it takes longer than hoped; it’s the same for every writer out there. I’ve lost track of the number of rejections I’ve had in the past – but that’s all part of the journey, and the only way you’ll progress as a writer.
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.