Friday, 17 November 2017

The Big 5 Diary #2

The latest instalment from Sophie Wellstood, winner of a year's mentorship with Triskele Books, in which she shares some exciting news!


Sophie, it’s almost a year since The Sky is a Blue Bowl was chosen as the winning entry and you’re fast approaching the end of your mentorship! How has the year worked out for you so far? 

It’s been a pretty damn wonderful year in terms of writing. I’ve had a story included in the Best British Short Stories 2017 (pub. Salt) and another is forthcoming in a second volume of Stories for Homes, an anthology supporting Shelter. But it’s the novel that’s been more or less all-consuming.

Winning the mentorship was a fundamental part of me gaining more confidence in and energy for the book. I know how good the other Big 5 entries would have been, and how close the final decision was, and I did not want to mess up this incredible opportunity to benefit from the skills and experience of the Triskele team. Be careful what you wish for!

Catriona’s forensic dissection and appraisal of the ms left me daunted, thrilled, and overwhelmed in equal measure. There was a lot to fix and I knew it would take me months rather than weeks. I am a very, very slow writer, which still surprises me because the ideas seem to come at the speed of light sometimes. 
Sophie and the Triskele Team

Tell us the truth, has it been hard graft or good fun?


Both. Although maybe ‘fun’ doesn’t quite describe some of the emotions I’ve been through! Definitely hard, hard graft. I remember pacing around my flat, holding Catriona’s editorial report, muttering what? what? really? no way! Oh God she’s right. Yes, yes, she’s right. But if I change that then I have to … re-write … the entire book … ok … So I re-wrote the whole book. Of course it’s still the same story, same themes, same characters etc, but this time I went into every single paragraph with a very different head on me. I started the novel seven years ago without a clue about what I was doing. I was writing it simply to challenge myself. Now it was time to get tough, and to get better. I felt like Catriona’s editorial gave me permission to cut the crap, to give the novel a stronger spine. And once deep into the re-write, I absolutely loved it. My sentences felt 100% punchier, the pace steadier but swifter. I added new scenes, new twists, more jeopardy, more edge, cut the waffle, cut (some of!) the puerile humour, made the tragic more tragic, made the stakes much higher. And made the happy bits very happy. I actually made myself cry with one scene, which told me I’d freshened it up enough to start feeling it properly again. (And that I’m extremely sentimental, no surprises there).

Now you’re happy with the final draft, are you ready for the next steps? This is where the whole team start working in parallel. You’ll get two full copyedits from Gilly and Liza, while briefing Jane on cover design and myself regarding blurb, strapline, etc, plus all our know-how in terms of marketing, metadata and platform.

I’m very happy with the final draft, and have been excited about the next steps – definitely needing the copy edits, and imagining gorgeous covers etc. And I know absolutely nothing about marketing, metadata and platforms, so have been looking forward to learning about this new world. Then two weeks ago things took an unexpected turn.

At the beginning of the month I sent the new version to a few select agents, just to test the waters, fully expecting to hear nothing until after Christmas. However. One of the agents emailed me within three hours of getting the first chapters, asking for the full ms. Stunned, and assuming she must be intoxicated or otherwise completely mad, I sent it to her the next day, and 48 hours later – the Friday afternoon - she called me to say she absolutely loved it and wanted to offer me representation. The evening was spent in a state of complete disbelief mixed with a small drop of gin.

I met with her last week, and was relieved to discover she’s neither mad nor intoxicated but is absolutely passionate about my story and keen to get it out to editors as is. No further work needed. At the time of writing, I’m about to sign with her.

It’s taking a while to sink in. From submission to an offer of representation in four days? I’ve literally not been able to think of anything else. I’ve been dreaming about it. I’m trying to be measured, trying to be realistic – pessimistic even - but am actually deeply, deeply happy.

That I was able to re-shape the novel into this new form is entirely due to Catriona’s editorial skills, her insights and the effort she put into identifying the heart of what I was trying to get at but was struggling with. I will never be able to say thank you loudly or often enough, but thank you - to the whole team. Thank you!

That is wonderful news! How do you want to proceed?


It’s bittersweet. I really do feel torn, and in a way disloyal to Triskele for probably not now taking up the whole offer because it’s such a generous and life-altering prize, and going by the skills of the editorial team, I’ve no doubt the rest of the package would be equally as professional and the finished product would be of the highest quality. But I have always wanted agent representation, for better or worse, and this is a chance I cannot pass by.

We understand completely and we're all thrilled for you! So would you recommend the mentorship to other writers?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Last question, what have you learned from working with Triskele Books?

Writing is work. Sometimes it’s a twelve-hour shift. Writing is a craft, but sometimes the beauty is out of reach. When the beauty is out of reach, revert to the work. Put in another twelve hour shift. The beauty is never far away.

Take criticism seriously. Take your writing seriously. Don’t take yourself seriously.

I’ve learned – or I should say I’ve had it confirmed again and again – that writers are generally the most wonderful people. The Triskele team are up there with the very best: skilled, professional, supportive, creative, passionate. It’s been a life-changing experience to be a part of this and I will never, ever stop being thankful.


Thank you Sophie and it's been a pleasure to work with you. Good luck and come back soon to let us know how you get on. Congratulations!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Why Read Short Stories by Vanessa Couchman

I’ve always been an avid reader of novels, but I first became aware of the short story as a different but equally inspiring form when a teacher read E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops to our class. The story is set in a far-off but credible future. People depend on the now failing Machine to survive, but they have discarded their humanity somewhere along the line.

I was hooked. I read more of Forster’s stories and then sought out other authors who had written them. The list is long and distinguished: Edgar Allen Poe, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Katharine Mansfield, Alice Munro and Helen Dunmore, to name a few in no particular order.

What was it that captivated me? I didn’t analyse it then but, having now written short stories myself, I can offer some thoughts.

A good short story sucks you in immediately, absorbs you and engages your emotions. It presents the main character with a dilemma that must be resolved by the end and tells you something about the human condition. A story can be particularly effective if it finishes with an unexpected twist.

Okay, but a novel does that too. Isn’t a short story an easy option?

Not in the least. I find short stories more difficult to write than novels, although they don’t require as much stamina! In a short story, every single word and your overriding premise have to count; in a novel you can elaborate and introduce more characters and ideas. You can afford to have weaker bits in a novel; you can’t in a short story.

Think of a novel as a treasure chest in which some of the jewels sparkle more than others. A short story is like a single gem that is cut and polished to perfection. 
 For readers, an advantage of a short story is that you can read it, or listen to it, at one sitting. They are perfect for relieving a tedious commute, taking your mind off work during a coffee break or whiling away an hour on a rainy day.

You can also try out other genres you might not normally read. For example, I don’t generally read sci-fi, but I’ve enjoyed short stories by John Wyndham and Ray Bradbury.

So, while the teetering TBR pile on my bedside table is largely composed of novels, short stories are usually lurking in there somewhere.


Vanessa Couchman is a British novelist and short story writer who has lived in Southwest France since 1997. She has written two novels, The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow, and is working on a third. Her short stories have been placed in competitions and published in anthologies. French Collection, her collection of short stories set in France, was published on 9th November.