Second Prize Winner Richard Hooton Talks to Exeter Writers
Hello Richard Hooton and welcome to Exeter Writers Short Story Competition Winners Hall of Fame. Congratulations on winning second place with your story The Homecoming. Tell us a little about yourself and where in the world you hail from. Why did you enter the Exeter Short Story Competition?
Hi Jessica and thank you. I’m a former journalist now working as a senior communications officer and I live in Mossley in Greater Manchester.
I’ve been writing in my spare time for several years. Around five years ago I began writing short stories and entering them into competitions as way of getting published and developing my work. I’d read about a few writers who recommended it as a good way of improving your writing by testing what works and that by following feedback you would start to see publishing success.
I first entered the Exeter Writers Short Story Competition in 2017. In the first two years I tried, I didn’t manage to have success. However, I was longlisted two years ago, shortlisted last year and came second this year, so I think that shows how through persistence it’s possible to progress and achieve.
The Homecoming is a great story, I loved the themes and the twist ending. Where did you get the idea to write this story?
I wanted to write a Pinteresque story with a tense, menacing atmosphere, involving three characters where something terrible that has happened between them is slowly revealed and justice is sought. I had the idea of an estranged son returning home to an uncomfortable scenario and slowly turning the tables on his former tormenter, and the rest followed quite quickly. I wanted to keep it as close to ‘show not tell’ as possible by intimating what had happened through reactions and dialogue. I didn’t want to reveal too much, leaving the reader to piece it together.
Many of our readers and followers are aspiring writers themselves. What advice do you have for them? How do you approach the writing process?
I hate sitting down to a blank page so when an idea for a story comes to me, I let it brew in my mind for a while. I make notes on my phone about the plot, characters and certain lines and when I’m excited and interested by it, I have a starting point to work from. My ideas are sparked by unusual media stories, song lyrics or sometimes they just develop.
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!
I thought Exeter Writers summed it up perfectly in the competition announcement: ‘When a man returns to his childhood home after a long estrangement, he sets in motion a chain of events that will lead to a cathartic resolution. This story has excellent characterisation, beautiful descriptions and a nice twist.’ I was really pleased with that!
You've said you've been writing short stories for about five years now. Have you had any of them published elsewhere? Where can people go to find them?
I’ve been lucky enough to have short stories published in a number of competition anthologies or online after being listed, placed or even winning competitions. Recent successes include winning the Evesham Literary Festival Short Story Competition with a story called Regeneration and the Charroux Prize for Short Fiction with the story Duality, coming second in the Southport Writers Circle International Short Story Competition with How to Fake a Heart Attack and a piece of flash fiction I wrote called the rAndomness of things was shortlisted in the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize and will be published on their website.
Who has influenced your writing the most? Do you have any writing heroes or favourite authors?
I don’t have any particular favourites, although I’ve recently studied the way Cormac McCarthy so succinctly creates character, mood and tension through his characters’ mannerisms and dialogue, particularly in No Country For Old Men and The Road. While I don’t usually read horror, Steven King’s On Writing is often recommended for budding writers and is a great mix of memoir and ‘how-to guide’ that demonstrates how masterful he is at creating tension and suspense. I also loved Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall for its unusual structure and themes.
Have you ever taken any courses in creative writing and if so are there any that you would recommend?
I haven’t taken any courses, but I have taken part in plenty of workshops. I’d strongly advise aspiring writers to join a local writer’s group. I’m part of two: Mossley Writers Group and Manchester Writing Group. It’s a great way to get feedback and encouragement for your work. Reading and critiquing others’ work is a good way of seeing different styles and methods and discovering ways of improving stories. The groups often point out things that I’ve missed or didn’t realise and have certainly helped me improve my writing.
The pandemic has been a massively impactful event to people’s lives in every corner of the world, everyone has had their challenges to overcome as a result. How has the pandemic impacted your life and your writing?
With everyday life coming to a halt, there have been times during the pandemic when it’s afforded me more time to do writing, but also times when it’s felt difficult to write during everything that’s happening. I’ve only written a couple of short stories that feature the pandemic as I’m not sure it’s best to write about it while in the middle of the storm - it may need more perspective.
Talk to us about your writing routine, what does an ordinary writing day look like for you?
I don’t have a particular writing routine. I try to write every day where possible, usually for an hour or so after I’ve finished work, or in the evening and at weekends. I feel I’m not progressing or achieving anything if I haven’t read, written or edited something that day.
Are you working on anything at the moment? Can we expect anything new from you at some point in the future?
Before I started writing short stories, I wrote a very rough novel that I’ve returned to, hoping to improve it with what I’ve learnt over the last few years. I’m currently editing it, adding in new sections, chopping parts out and giving it a thorough reworking. I’m still entering short story competitions at the same time, trying to find success with stories that I haven’t yet managed to get published.
Any parting words of wisdom or encouragement for budding authors reading this?
To keep writing, reading and editing as much as possible. Like anything in life, practice makes perfect. The more widely you read and the more you write, the better you’ll get. Short stories are a good way of experimenting, trying different styles and finding your voice – you haven’t lost too much time or effort if it doesn’t work. Frequent editing is important, it’s where writing really comes together. Never give up, you can have a lot of rejections before, and after, you get anything published. It can be very subjective. I’ve had stories that haven’t come anywhere in several competitions and then have been placed or even won in another. Just keep going and it will come.