NYC MIDNIGHT:Congratulations on winning the Creative Writing Championships 2009! Why did you enter the Creative Writing Championships and what did you hope to get out of it?
Rachael: I was in the Short Story Competition 2009 and really enjoyed the whole experience. So when the CWC came around, I jumped at the chance. I really liked the idea of trying out a variety of genres Ė working outside your comfort zone can be a real challenge to your creativity, and thatís a good thing.
NYC MIDNIGHT:What was the most difficult aspect of the writing challenges for you: the deadline, the required genre, location and object assignments, or the 1,000 word limit?
Rachael: For me, the required genre was the most challenging thing. I have my own personal style, as most of us do, and trying to write to a genre while maintaining your own unique voice is really difficult. The deadline is a good thing as I am the worldís most accomplished procrastinator and I need to have a deadline to get anything done!
NYC MIDNIGHT:You received the genres of Romance, Comedy and Fantasy (twice). What genres do you prefer writing and which assignments proved to be the most difficult?
Rachael: Before entering an NYC Midnight competition, I would have said that I wrote literary fiction. One of the joys of doing the CWC, and the Short Story Competition too, is that I have discovered that I have a talent for writing fantasy. I can honestly say I would never have even considered writing fantasy if it hadnít been for these competitions. Comedy was definitely the most challenging genre for me. Comedy is a very subjective thing, and British humour can be quite different from American humour. I think you need a natural talent in comedy to pull it off, and I discovered I donít have the comedy gene.
NYC MIDNIGHT:How did you get started as a writer? Where are you now in your writing career and what are your goals?
Rachael: I thought about writing for years, but didnít get started until we moved from London to New York for three years, when my husband was relocated for his job. There I was in a new country, with no job and my kids just started a school, and I thought Ė this is it, this is the time to find out whether or not I can do this. I took a few courses and started writing short stories. That was five years ago. I havenít had anything published yet, but I keep sending stories out, and keep writing. And I try to enter a competition every few months. I have just started on my first novel Ė but with no deadline to keep me going, progress is slow. If someone asks me what I do, I have no hesitation in saying that I am a writer.
NYC MIDNIGHT:Do you write on a regular basis? What is your general approach for writing a story, from idea to final draft?
Rachael: Everyone says having a regular writing routine is important. I agree. I just donít have one. Itís one of the reasons I enjoyed the CWC so much Ė I developed a routine for those weekends when there was a new challenge to write. When Iím starting a new story Iíll spend maybe thirty minutes jotting down ideas until I get to the right one. Then I dive in and start to write. Iíll take a scenario and a character or two and just write, to see where they take me. Major revisions usually focus on the structure of the story Ė I often need to move scenes around to get the flow right. I try to get the actual writing polished in the very first draft. If a sentence or word isnít right, Iíll keep working at it until Iím happy.
NYC MIDNIGHT:You are the first writer from the UK to win an NYC Midnight competition. What has your experience been as an aspiring writer in the UK? Do you believe a writer living in the UK has any advantages or disadvantages over a writer in the US?
Rachael: Having started my writing career while living in the US, I have two writing voices, one British and one American. I definitely tapped into my US writing voice for this competition. Itís not just a matter of spelling and vocabulary. There is a different rhythm and cadence to American writing that I really enjoy. Whether or not this gave me an advantage over other non-US entrants in the competition, I couldnít say. I do believe that writing is more culturally rooted in locale than, for example, movies and music, and doesnít always translate so well.
NYC MIDNIGHT:What authors have influenced your writing? What are some of your favorite novels?
Rachael: Iíve been a voracious reader since I was a child, and each and every one of those books has fed into my love of writing. But the first time I seriously considered being a writer was when I read Larryís Party by Carole Shields. Iím not a great storyteller, I write about people, and here was a writer who was doing just that, but exquisitely. John Updike and Anne Tyler are also huge influences on me. If pushed to name some favourite novels, I would say Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and, top of the list, Jane Austenís Pride and Prejudice.
NYC MIDNIGHT:The point system used to advance writers into further rounds and determine overall winners was also much different than our previous competitions. Did you follow the overall point standings closely as the competition unfolded and the results were announced from each challenge?
Rachael: As far as the standings were concerned, I was mostly concerned with keeping myself in the competition. Having scored less well in the comedy challenge, I knew I had to pull out all the stops to secure a place in the final. Itís very motivating. It was only in the final round that the actual points totals became crucial. It was very tight up there at the top of the board and there was no guarantee that a win in the final round would be enough to win the championships overall.
NYC MIDNIGHT:We included a dedicated review forum where writers could share their stories from the competition with each other and provide/receive feedback. Did you participate in the forums and/or get a chance to check out some of the stories that were posted? If so, what were some of your favorites?
Rachael: I love the NYC Midnight forum, and am often to be found hanging around there. Reading and critiquing other stories is a great way to learn the craft of writing for yourself. Itís great to see the range of styles and ideas thrown up by these challenges, and to see which stories scored well with the judges. The forum is a really supportive and friendly place, and some of the critiques offered there are as good as any professional critiquing service can offer. Thatís worth the competition entry fee all by itself, in my opinion. There were so many great stories, itís hard to pick a favourite, but the ones I think will stick with me were: Just Say ĎHelpí; Self Help; Big Words; and Wash Me.
NYC MIDNIGHT:Do you have any ongoing or upcoming projects you would like to discuss?
Rachael: I am a member of the East Dulwich Writersí Group here in London and we are just about to publish our first anthology. I have two stories in the collection, both of which started life as NYC Midnight competition entries! The book will be published in November 2009, details at www.edwg.co.uk.
NYC MIDNIGHT:What advice do you have for aspiring writers looking to improve their storytelling, whether it be flash fiction or novels?
Rachael: There are only two things you need to do to be a good writer: you need to read, and you need to write. Read like a writer, look at how your favourite writers do what they do. Remember that good writing doesnít flow unbidden onto the page. Itís a process of conscious decision-making and real craft. And think about your readers, always, as you write.
NYC MIDNIGHT:Will you be back to defend your title in 2010?
Rachael: Just try to stop me...
For more information about Rachael and to read some of her work, click here.
CWC2009 Stories by Rachael Dunlop
Challenge #1 (Romance / A bathroom / A fish tank)
ďDrowning in Fresh AirĒ - A chance meeting in line for a bathroom leads one young couple to a lifetime of misunderstandings and missed opportunities. As the ebb and flow of their lives brings them together and pulls them apart, neither can forget their first love.
Challenge #2 (Comedy / A parking lot / A fish hook)
ďBarbedĒ - There are three people in this marriage. Only one of them knows where they are going.
Challenge #3 (Fantasy / A playground / Binoculars)
ďA Sideways StepĒ - As children start to disappear from a playground, a lonely boy watches and begins to see a pattern in the strange events. When the life you have is not the life you want, a sideways step can sometimes take you where you want to be.
Challenge #4 (Fantasy / A car wash / A kitten)
ďWithout ParallelĒ - In a world where every living creature is born with a twin, but only one survives to adulthood, there is a statistical anomaly that increases your chances of being the surviving twin by a fraction of a percent. What would you do?
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