The first Cornish Writing Challenge ran from April-June, and drew in a variety of excellent short stories. Read on to find out more about runner-up Julia Macfarlane, and read her submission, Cornwall For A Change.
After a varied career, encompassing time as a tax inspector, a French-German translator, and management positions in various universities, Julia packed in work at way too young an age, to ensure the husband didn’t have too easy a retirement. In a bid to escape his task-list, he has since written four novels and Julia has talked about finishing one. In the meantime, she runs Bognor Regis Write Club and has produced their first anthology, a ghost tour of Chichester and a collection of her own short stories.
What inspired you to start writing?
I always believed I would be a writer, since I was a little kid. As an adult, I’ve had phases of writing or not writing, dependent on how much of my life was being eaten up by my job. Now I’m retired (early), I’m having a writing phase again.
What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process?
I wish I’d started trying to find a publisher earlier, although perhaps I would have given up writing in despair if I had. It’s so easy to self-publish now, but doing your own marketing is such a chore!
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Just do it. Write every day, but also read critically other people’s stuff. How did they write that to get that emotional effect? Also, take advantage of free online courses on writing techniques. There are a lot of companies out there making money from our desire to be a better writer, but there is still plenty of free stuff, too.
Tell us more about Cornwall For A Change. Where did the inspiration come from?
Oh dear. I had just been on a holiday to Amsterdam with my sister and mother. We had a conversation about where to go next year and why. I like writing about the humorous dynamics of family relationships and the undertones.
What is your connection to Cornwall?
My husband’s family live there, and we used to have annual holidays to Wadebridge with the kids until his mum died. Lovely memories and lovely places.
What’s next for you?
I need to better promote the 2 books I’ve produced this year, and need to get the next Bognor Regis Write Club Anthology ready for October, and WRITE MY NOVEL!! My husband has produced 4 while I’ve messed about with short stories and other distractions.
What are you currently reading?
Just finished rereading Nicholas Nickelby – I’m a big Dickens fan. I set myself the challenge of reading everything Thomas Hardy wrote in chronological order. Took me 2 years. Now I’m doing the same with Dickens, but I read modern stuff in between to cleanse the palate. Absolutely love the cynical style of Lionel Shriver, and give away copies of her The Post Birthday World to anyone who I think will appreciate a well-crafted story with characters that step off the page. I also think Kate Atkinson is a master of the craft.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I bought a cockapoo puppy in January. Lulu is the light of my life. My husband is totally smitten with her as well. We are members of the Bognor Regis Ramblers, the Chichester Natural History Society, and we are learning Spanish because our son lives in Madrid.We spoil our 2 granddaughters who live nearby with our daughter and husband as often as possible. Oh, and we socialise A LOT.
Lastly, and most importantly, jam or cream first?
Jam and then a big blob of Cornish clotted cream. Yum! If you don’t need a napkin for your hands and face afterwards, you didn’t do it properly.
Read on for Julia’s wonderful submission, Cornwall For A Change.
“We thought Cornwall this year, mum?”
Rita lowered her magnifying glass to the Express crossword page and peered at her daughters.
“Yes, you know, Bodmin, Truro, Newquay, Torquay..”
“I think Torquay is in Devon,” Jane interrupted.
“Whatever. So, what do you think, Mum?”
“Why Cornwall all of a sudden?” Rita’s tone was peevish.
Marilyn forced her voice to remain calm. “For a change. For somewhere new.”
“Why change this year?”
“Mum,” it was Jane’s turn to encourage a positive response from their mother. “It’s your eightieth. We wanted to make the annual holiday this year a bit more special.”
“Just going away is special enough for me. Isn’t Cornwall a long way away?”
“It’s about five hours in the car, Mum, but we’ll break it up with a couple of stops.”
“You’ll need more than a couple with my bladder.”
“We can take as many as you want or need. So what do you think?”
“I think it’s a lot of fuss when you’ve had as many birthdays as I’ve had.”
Marilyn’s turn again: “Eighty is special, mum, and you’ve said you don’t want a party. So we thought Cornwall would be a treat for you. You can visit all the places you visited with Dad when you were on your honeymoon.”
“I can’t remember them after all this time. I remember it rained!”
“Well, it might not rain this time. What did you do last time?”
“Let me see – we went to the zoo at Newquay, on a boat trip to see the puffins, and we had fish and chips on the seafront. “
“There you go, then! We could do all those things again.”
“I don’t like boats; don’t even like the sea that much.”
“Ok, what would you like to do?”
“Why can’t we do what we always do?”
“But Mum, we’ve been to Buxton every year since Dad – passed away. Are you not ready for a change?”
“I thought you girls liked Buxton?”
“It would be nice to have a change,” admitted Jane.
“Well, it’s up to you two. You’re the ones who have to take me.” Rita sighed and opened up her paper. The two middle-aged daughters exchanged glances.
“If we go to Buxton, would you like to do anything special there?”
“I do like the well dressing competition.” Her face brightened at the thought. The daughters sighed in unison, memories of their mother disparaging each and every well dressing design as not being as good as last year’s, the one around the corner, when she was a girl, as good as her WI group could have managed, and so on and so on. “And can we stay at that nice farmhouse outside town again? I do like to see her little hens pecking around; and she always gives you fresh milk for your room. Not like that long-life muck we got in Alnwick that time. Wasn’t that the last time we had a change?” Change was uttered like other people might utter murder or catastrophe.
“The farmhouse.” Jane looked at Marilyn who cocked an eyebrow in challenging response. “The farmhouse is a long way out of the town, Mum. It means one of us has to drive back after dinner each evening.”
“It doesn’t do either of you any harm to go without a half bottle of wine of an evening now and again.” Marilyn opened her mouth to protest but her mother was already moving on. “In my day, nice women didn’t drink in public, didn’t go into bars on their own,” she cocked an admonishing eye at her eldest daughter, Jane, “and they certainly didn’t go gallivanting off with a new husband every decade, just for the hell of it.”
Jane slammed down the brochure of Cornwall that was meant to be the next stage of their holiday offer. Marilyn placed a restraining hand on her arm.
“Right, mum, Buxton it is. Don’t you agree, Jane?”
“Oh, yes, Buxton is fine. I’ll ring Mrs Davies for our usual rooms.” Sarcasm dripped from each syllable. She pivoted, to start her flounce from the room.
“Lovely, I’m always telling Mary what great girls I have,” smiled her mother, magnanimous in victory. “Cornwall, indeed!”