Interview with the 2024 3rd prize winner - Jaime Gill

 Meet the Winners!

Jaime Gill won third prize with his story, Guardian Angel.

Jaime is a British-born writer living in Cambodia, whose stories have been published by Litro, Literally Stories, Pinky Thinker, In Parentheses, voidspace, and others. His stories have won or been a finalist for competitions including The Masters Review Award, the Bridport Prize, Plaza Prizes and Flash405. 

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

I was delighted to even be longlisted, so to actually win third place was a real honour and - I have to admit - big surprise. I'm particularly glad that it's a British contest, as I think this story has a particularly British accent to it, unlike many of my others. I've read and loved previous Exeter Writers winners, so I feel like I am in very good company.

Where did you get the idea?

The idea for Guardian Angel came about because I saw a photo online of a Christmas tree which had been dumped in a garden with all the decorations still attached. It struck me as both very wasteful (I come from a family where we are still using 1978's tinsel) and rather melancholy. I wanted to write about the life of a Christmas tree but every idea I came up with was nauseatingly twee, until I thought of a way the tree might be a vehicle for something considerably less cosy.

Do you have any writing heroes or favourite authors?

I have more writing heroes than I can count. Probably the most important living writer to me is David Mitchell. When I first read his debut, "Ghostwritten" - before "Cloud Atlas" came out and became a sensation - I was dazzled by his verve and creativity, his disdain for ideas of "low" and "high" literature, his gleeful genre-hopping, and the global scope of his storytelling. I later ended up retracing part of the journey described in "Ghostwritten", crossing Russia, Mongolia and China on the Trans-Siberian Express. It was a journey that led me to Cambodia, where I still live, eight years later. So his influence on me has been truly life-changing, and I try and fail to emulate his daring in my writing every day. I also revere John Irving's emotional power, Edith Wharton's psychological precision, Alan Moore's searing intellect, Philip K Dick's mind-bending inventiveness, Clive Barker's early horror short stories, everything by Kafka, and a relatively new short story writer called Kate Folk who is doing astonishing work which could only have been written right now - check out her collection, "Out There". Also, I'm just as inspired by music, films and TV: David Lynch, Prince, Brit Marling, Kate Bush, Suede, Pedro Almodovar, Pet Shop Boys, Bong Joon-Ho and Lana Del Rey are all part of my constellation of inspirations.

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

I started writing age eight, and continued to write furiously until I was seventeen. I even won some poetry competitions. I had a bit of a tricky childhood and was badly bullied as a young gay kid in the not exactly progressive North East of the early 1990s, which led to me burying myself deep in books and eventually trying to emulate them - not an uncommon story among writers. Then at age seventeen I finally started to make friends and discovered alcohol, and the next eighteen years were lost in a drunken blur. I did write three novels during that time but they were appalling and will never be seen by another human. When I finally gave up alcohol, I spent a while rebuilding my life, and then I returned to writing seriously about three years ago. I'm working on a novel and a screenplay, but they take time, and in the meantime I have been delighting myself in the possibilities of the short story. After a slow start, I've been lucky to have some success and won a few awards.

What is your writing process? Pen and paper or straight to screen? Do you have a routine?

I can only think by writing. I am no good at outlining a story with all the essential beats and then drafting, I have to throw myself right into the story and work it out as I go. I'll usually start with an idea of my ending, and then try to work my way towards it. My routine is to write whenever I can find time, though my brain works best in the early morning so I try and rise early before my day job and write then. I can write anywhere thanks to noise-cancelling headphones, one of mankind's greatest inventions. Buses, cafes, bank waiting rooms, my bedroom - anywhere I can find time and inspiration.

Do you have any advice for other short story writers?

My main advice for short story writers would be to enjoy yourself and play around. If you aren't committing months of your life to a project, as you must if you are going to write a novel, you can afford to try new things and have fun - throw yourself into very different characters, plunge into genres you wouldn't normally explore, follow your weirdest instincts. Also, stay alert to the world. Inspiration is everywhere. It's in newspaper headlines or strange things you see in the street or song lyrics or a million other things - the trick is to notice that they are all the kernels of story ideas, and write them down before they escape forever.

Do you have any other stories published elsewhere that our readers can check out?

I have quite a few stories out there, so I'll try and recommend my four favourites which are currently available for free. For a very short story of personal catastrophe entwined with climate catastrophe, there is Diablo, which was published by Litro: Agoraphobia is one of my longest and most personal stories, and also the first serious short story I wrote. It's set in Phnom Penh, where I live, and is a coming of age tale published by Underscore: Much more macabre and strange is At Night, The City Whispers, which was first published by the amazing British zine voidspace. I can't say too much without giving the game away, but it's a slow burner, a meditation on war and vengeance, and will hopefully take the reader to places they hadn't imagine before and might not thank me for: And if all of that sounds depressing, I have a more hopeful story I am fond of called The Monster and The Boy, published by Literally Stories: If you want to read more, I post everything on my Twitter: 

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