Interview with 1st prize winner, Caroline Passingham.
For thirty-four years, Caroline Passingham was in primary education as a deputy head, advisory teacher, visiting lecturer, workshop leader, and county course leader for teacher training.
She says, “Being in the classroom with little people was the best. I am drama trained. For my M.Ed. I researched the use of drama in education, and how meanings can be conveyed, especially through objects. Creating stories, contexts, characters, atmospheres, and meanings with children, was for many years, a large part of my working life.”
How did you feel when you found out that you’d won?
My husband passed me his tablet and said, ‘You’d better read this email.’ Apparently, I started to blub, and words came randomly like, ‘No. What? I can’t believe it. I can’t! No, no.’ And then the music started, a real La Bamba moment. ‘Arriba! Arriba!’ trumpets, bongos, maracas, castanets, all going for it as the fireworks exploded.
How long have you been writing?
I have been sixty-nine for several years now, but only started writing short stories in 2020, when I joined the Lostwithiel U3A Creative Writing Group. There would be no story, without them. Previously, I had written one short story since school. I have only entered a handful of competitions, and never been placed before. You will understand then, why I couldn’t/can’t believe how lucky I am to have won this competition and will always be grateful to Exeter Writers for the opportunity. The confidence you have given me, is priceless.
Where did you get the idea for your story?
Years ago, we were enjoying a walking holiday in Morocco, where local guides led us through the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. We were fortunate to visit Berber villages, and the homes of these remarkable people. One afternoon, I watched a man and his donkey, carry a telegraph pole up the mountain. The image never left me. It wasn’t my first idea though but came rushing in halfway through the story.
Do you have any writing heroes or favourite authors?
Heroine – A.S. Byatt
Hero – William Shakespeare
What is your writing process?
I found this question very difficult and had to rummage around deep inside to retrieve some sort of answer. I am shamed, to say, that I do not adhere to many of the guidelines that are out there. (None of my friends will be surprised by this!) I begin with a title, chosen by my talented writing group. It seems that I am then, very good at rejecting any initial ideas. This leaves a void, that I tend to fill instinctively, with a feeling, an image, an action etc. that I begin to write. Almost always the rest will follow. Plot is probably my last concern. When writing The Last Fall, I started with a box. It presented useful questions. In my latest story, (title Aftermath) I begin with a group of people waiting at a bus stop, and at the moment I am exploring the physical shape of the group. As with the box, I have no idea where this will take me.
I dream of having a story read on radio, and I usually have that medium in mind when I write. A more specific dream, a glorious one, is to have Sian Philips reading one of my stories on Radio 4. Have you ever heard her narration of The Mousehole Cat? Nobody enunciates morgy-broth like her. Reading any new story aloud to my long-suffering husband, helps me to judge pace, rhythm etc. It is then emailed to my writing group, and after their comments at our meeting, I edit, edit, edit. This can take months. I often revisit a story after leaving it for weeks.
I am very excited about experimenting further with the short story form. It has my deepest respect.
Thank you, Caroline, for sharing your writing process with us and good luck with any future stories. You can read her winning story, The Last Fall, here.