You can read my short story Through the Arched Window in January's issue (no. 171) of Writers' Forum magazine, as it came 2nd in the monthly competition. This was a big TICK for me as I've been shortlisted 4 times before and kept submitting - tenacity paid off with this placement (and a cheque for £150!). But this was no fluke ... this story has a history and I want to share this to highlight the importance of: editing (and re-writing), listening to feedback and not giving up on a story you believe in. Fetch yourself a cup of tea and settle down to read the history of a short story ...
Throughout all its drafts Through the Arched Window has kept the same title. The inspiration for the story comes from my obsession with arched windows, which is odd as we don't have any in our house, and fond memories of watching Playschool with my mum when little (more on this later). In my short story notebook where I catalogue everything I submit this story is numbered 25 out of 121. This immediately gives away its age - it was originally written in June 2011 and one of the first stories I ever submitted to the Bridport competition (it didn't do anything and to date none of my stories have made the shortlist ... sigh).
It's second outing was more successful, a finalist in The New Writer's short story prize (March 2012). Being named in dispatches showed me this could be a good story so I continued submitting to various competitions. Various edits and tweaks were made to the story between each outing but I never significantly changed the overall storyline.
Move on four years and after a serious edit the story made the long list of the 2015 Exeter Writers' Short Story Prize. This was another good sign that I was on the right track with the piece. Disappointingly, it didn't go any higher and I was stumped as what else I could do with it.
Back in 2015 I blogged about the power of workshops and living up to my words I ran this story past my writing gang (Bea, Richard and Zoe - they know who they are). They all seemed to love it, but each had pertinent comments on the narrative which had to be addressed. They all felt the same about one aspect too. Within the story I referenced, several times, Playschool a children's TV show from the 70s. Even mentioned Hamble, Big Ted et al and 'going through' the storytelling windows ie. the round/square/arched windows. (Hands up if you remember any of this.) They all remembered the show (despite the range in ages within our little group) but suggested this may not be true for all readers and I could confuse or, worse, alienate others with these details. I always listen to my workshop mates - because they are all very talented writers - and took out the references to the TV show. However, I did keep the title and the motif of the arched window running through the story - it still made sense within the context of the plot and for those who did remember the show it would perhaps add an extra layer of resonance.
The narrative did still need pruning, I softened the main character, Helena, and cut down her list of names - all suggestions from my workshop group. However, the overall plotline has changed little from that first draft of June 2011. The ninth time I submitted this story was to Writers' Forum and ... well, you know the rest. What I've learned from this is: you can never stop editing and improving a piece, listen to feedback from writers you trust and ... DON'T GIVE UP- a good story will always find a good home.
Have you had success with a short story or piece of writing that you weren't prepared to give up on? Please share - we love to hear your writing stories too!