The Lowdown on LM Rees - Short Story Competition Winner 2021
The winner of the first prize for Exeter Writers' Short Story Competition 2021 was LM Rees with her thought-provoking Stand Up, which you can find in the Winning Stories section of the blog. If you haven't read it yet, we highly recommend you do.
Exeter Writers member and blog manager, Jessica Triana, speaks to LM Rees to get the author lowdown:
Hello LM Rees… Should I call you LM or do you have a first name I can call you by?
Hi Jessica. You can call me Lucy.
Well done on winning our first prize with Stand Up this year. How does it feel to be an Exeter Writers Competition Winner?
Thank you very much. It feels wonderful being an Exeter Writers competition winner. I am absolutely delighted.
Racism and bullying are very sensitive topics. Where did you get your inspiration to write this story?
I’d have to go way back to when I was in school, learning about the Holocaust for A level history. I remember being absolutely baffled as to how this was ever allowed to happen, not just that the Nazis could treat Jewish people in that way, but that so many ordinary people knew what was going on but did nothing about it.
This idea has always been in the back of my mind, summed up by the quote attributed to Edmund Burke, 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.' Then I realised this kind of thing goes on every day on a much smaller scale. I am ashamed to admit that I saw other children being bullied when I was in school but I didn’t do anything to stop it. This has haunted me ever since.
This idea was very much at the forefront of everyone’s mind last year after George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement. The reason why there is racism – whites against blacks in my story – isn’t just because some white people are racist against black people, but because many white people don’t do anything to stop or prevent the racism.
So I felt compelled to write this story, to explore the reasons why people refuse to stand up against discrimination – fear, peer pressure, not wanting to be the first to speak out. I think this is an idea that needs to be explored a lot more, to urge people to stand up against injustice and to point out to others that bullying and racism are not OK.
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!
An elderly lady looks back with shame at the times she turned a blind eye to discrimination during the segregation era and its aftermath. Stand Up is a story of racism, bullying, regret, and ultimately hope that people will stand up against injustice.
How do you approach the writing process? What advice do you have for other short story writers?
Before I write a word, I try to immerse myself in the world that I’m writing about by reading around the topic, watching films, listening to music, looking at pictures, and even wearing certain clothes. For Stand Up, I read Rosa Parks’s autobiography and watched films such as Selma. I’ve recently written a story set during the silent movie era, which I saw as a good excuse to buy myself a lovely pair of vintage T-bar shoes, which I wore while writing it! It worked for me 😊
Do you have any other short stories published elsewhere that our readers can check out?
My first short story Fast Train to Zion won the Writers’ Forum monthly short story competition in January 2014. My story Intersection Blues, based on the myth of Robert Johnson selling his soul at the crossroads, was published in Lucent Dreaming in April this year. A cosy crime story of mine will be published in the summer edition of Yours Fiction later this month. I’ve also written a non-fiction book – Mongolian Film Music: Tradition, Revolution and Propaganda – which was based on my PhD thesis and published by Routledge in 2015.
Do you have any writing heroes? Who’s your favourite author and why?
I am a huge fan of Salman Rushdie’s writing, although mine is nothing like his! He is a master of language and his ideas are phenomenal. Occasionally, when I read a story, I think, 'how on earth did that author come up with that fabulous idea?' When reading a Salman Rushdie novel, I have that thought on almost every page.
Have you ever taken any courses in creative writing and if so are there any that you would recommend?
I have an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. For anyone who is serious about their writing, I highly recommend doing a good course. No matter how much talent or drive a writer has, you also need to learn the craft of writing. Other than courses, I highly recommend reading ‘how to’ books. My favourites are Stephen King’s On Writing and Orson Scott Card’s Characters and Viewpoint.
How has the pandemic impacted your writing?
To be completely honest, I’m not sure that it has. A lot of other writers with day jobs wrote a lot more during lockdown. I spent most of lockdown home-schooling my little one, and I worked at the local vaccine centre while the library I work in was closed. I’m afraid I haven’t found any inspiration from the various aspects of the pandemic, such as isolation or communities coming together. Maybe it’s all a bit too close for comfort at the moment.
Talk to us about your writing routine, what does an ordinary writing day look like for you?
Unfortunately, my writing day is considerably shorter than I would like it to be! I have a job and a family, so I have to grab writing time whenever I can, usually late in the evenings after reading bedtime stories to my little one.
As far as my approach to writing is concerned, I’m quite old-school. I usually write everything with pen and paper to start with. I find ideas flow more freely when using pen and paper, then I move onto the computer when I need to start structuring my ideas into a coherent story. I also believe in creating a good space and atmosphere to write in. I pretty much always burn scented candles and have a pot of green tea on the go when I write.
Any parting words of wisdom or encouragement for budding authors reading this?
Write as much as you can, read a lot, and fall in love with whichever language(s) you write in (personally, I love a spot of etymology). Try to find the balance between writing what you know and getting out of your comfort zone. Getting published is hard, making money from writing is harder, so do it because you love it.
Thank you so much for your time Lucy, it was lovely talking to you. A final note to the reader: if you enjoyed this interview and you want to connect with Lucy, you can do so on Facebook.
LinkedIn and Twitter.