Interview with 2023 1st prize winner, Abigail Williams

Meet the Winners!

The winner of this year's 1st prize was Abigail Williams with her story, Dancing the Dead Leaf Charleston.

Abigail lives in Totnes in Devon with her husband, three children and one wayward dog. She spent twenty years working for a Yorkshire-based creative agency and is now, between juggling family and part-time copywriting work, in the process of completing her first novel. We were dead keen to ask her a few questions...

How did you feel when you found out that you'd won?

Elated! And then concerned that there might have been a mistake... and then grateful. Writing is such a fickle, subjective business. Sometimes judges and readers see value in stories that we aren't sure of, and sometimes we have a story that we believe in and no one else does and it's impossible to understand why. For every prize that anyone wins, there will have been dozens of rejections or close calls, so to all the other listees and to everyone who entered the competition with a story that they believed in, congratulations. I'm very aware that on a different day, someone else would have won First Prize and I feel incredibly grateful that today it was mine. 

Where did you get the idea?

I got the idea for my story from a writing prompt for a different competition in which I was allocated the historical period '1920s'. My initial thoughts went to tassled flappers and tommy guns (of course) but then I was thinking about the amount of social change that there was in the '20s. So many people would have been grieving the loss of children from the Great War and Spanish Influenza and it must have been incredibly hard, wading through those murky depths of grief, to have found the will to move with the times. I think that children are often our link to modernity, and if that link is cut, what then? But I am making a concerted effort to put more happiness in my stories so I wanted to give my lady the beginnings of a happy ending. 

How long have you been writing? Is this your first win?

I wrote lots as a child and I've been writing for work purposes for twenty years. I started my MA in Creative Writing at the University of Exeter in September 2020. In January 2022 I started trying to be more productive and competitions are a good focus for me. It is my aim to write novels and I'm slogging away at the moment on a second draft of a novel set in 1940s Paris. But I find flash fiction (stories between 300-1000 words) ridiculously seductive – the possibility of crafting a little golden nugget is tantalising when viewed next to the juddering blancmange that is my book. I have been lucky enough to win a few prizes, including the Flash 500, and I was delighted to place third in both the Bath Flash Fiction and Oxford Flash Fiction prizes.

Do you have any advice for other short story writers?

Hmmm. I try to give a piece time to breathe. Something that feels exquisite the moment it is completed rarely is when you come back a second, fourth or tenth time. Then I would say write a story you would want to read because, hopefully, people will. Think carefully about where you're sending the story, read previous winners, think about whether that particular story is right for that readership. And finally I try to cut at least 25% from a story and it always makes it sharper and more engaging. If you can, enjoy the process. If you can't, I find cake helps. 

Have you taken any courses in creative writing, and if so are there any that you'd recommend?

Yes! I love courses. My family thinks I'm bonkers because I never stop signing up for them, but every single time I do I come away with something new. Doing an MA was critical for me. It was a big investment and that meant that I carved out the time I needed to do it properly. The regular feedback over the course of the degree really helped build my confidence that perhaps I can write a bit, and getting a Distinction felt fabulous. I recently completed Imogen Hermes Gowar's 'Writing the Past' course (she wrote The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – brilliant – find her on twitter @girl_hermes) and, again, the feedback and the ability to meet other likeminded writers has been fantastic. Writing can be lonely and your confidence can take a battering when things don't go well. I find the contact that courses provide to be really important. 

Where did you hear about our competition and what made you enter it?

You're my local competition! I live in Totnes in Devon so anything South West-y feels like home. (I do also claim anything in the north because I'm from Leeds originally, and anything in Wales because that's where my husband's from...) And of course avarice: a big prize pot is a lure to a jobbing writer. I did enter a couple of years ago before I did my degree and had no luck, so I'm absolutely delighted that this story resonated. Thank you for choosing it.  

Thank you, Abigail. If you haven't read Abigail's story yet, you can find it here.