I had the opportunity to be the Burlington Public Library’s Take Flight & Write fiction judge again this year. Below are interviews with the first and second place winners of the Grade 7/8 and Grade 11/12 fiction categories. These brilliant young folks give me great hope for the next generation of Canadian literature.
Click on their photos (after each interview) to read their winning stories!
GRADE 7/8 – First Place – HENRY MCMANN
1. Your story, K.I.A., is a compelling, candid story about the inglorious realities of war. Explain how it came about—what inspired you? The original story was a piece of writing for my class, a project centered on Remembrance Day and Canada’s involvement in conflicts. Several ideas for stories ran through my head though none were all that great, eventually the idea for a soldier on the front lines in World War I came to me and I rolled with it. The original story was around 3100 words and had an extra setting in World War II, in the Battle of the Atlantic. The inspiration didn’t come from one place, a bit of the motive was that I had a week to write a good story!
2. Some people believe that a writer can only write about what he/she has experienced. Do you agree with this? Why, or why not? If this were true then there would be no fiction genre, historians wouldn’t be able to write about the past and there would be a lot fewer journalists. Inspiration doesn’t have to come from experience, it can come from smells, sounds and the furthest thing from the actual experience.
3. If you had to give advice to a budding writer on how to write a winning story, what would it be? I’d tell them that they should make it true and make it good. I’d use inspiring quotes like, “Get ‘r done,” and “Aren’t we all artists in our own special way?” I would also try and help them by proof reading their work and being critical. No one wants nothing more to be right, so if I say it’s ‘good’ then they’ll try and prove me wrong and make it ‘stunning’.
4. What’s your favourite word and why? ‘Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, I’m a fan of the way it rolls off the tongue.
GRADE 7/8 – Second Place – RENESSA VISSER
1. A Toga for Billy is a sweet, tug-at-my-heart-strings story, which captures that special moment in childhood when practicality is trumped by imagination and pleasure. Explain how it came about. It took a long time for me to come up with a suitable idea for this writing contest. For a long time I struggled with different ideas, researched them, started writing, and gave up until one evening when I was talking with my parents about an idea for a story, and my dad commented on a picture that was displayed on our picture frame. It was an old photo of my brother (8 yrs old) dressed in a toga costume and we began to imagine what a good story it would make. I played with the idea, and as an experiment, started to write my story. I got pretty excited about it, and in the last week before the deadline I had A Toga For Billy finished.
2. Paulo Coelho is quoted as saying, “That is why I write – to try to turn sadness into longing, solitude into remembrance.” Why do you write? I write because I love to create something that expresses great feeling. I write to create a world that you can imagine and identify with, whether you are young or old.
3. Explain your writing process. My writing process starts with brainstorming for an idea. This is often hard, but I find looking at old paintings or pictures gives me an idea for a story. As soon as I have an inspiring idea, I sit down and write voraciously, writing every day until I’ve finished, and then I read it and edit as much as I can. Often I’ll send my stories to a relative or an adult friend to be edited from a different perspective. As soon as it’s polished up, I’m done!
4. What’s your favourite word and why? My favourite word is insouciance: lighthearted unconcern or happiness. I like the sound and feel of the word, and how much expression it conveys, instead of being boring.
GRADE 11/12 – First Place – VICTORIA (TORI) WALKER
1.Your story, Fiber Optics, is a brilliant depiction of one of those memories from childhood that seems impervious to time and distance—a memory that is just as vivid now as it was in the moment. Explain the genesis of your story. How did it come about? Fiber Optics is really just a combination of a true (or as true as I remember) story from my past and an interesting mood I was in one day at the library. There was not much fore-thought or planning involved – I just had an hour to kill and a lot on my mind.
2. Stephen King is quoted as saying, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” What do you think he meant by this, and do you agree? I think he means that there is always an underlying message or truth within fiction. I definitely agree; good writing is always trying to get you to see something bigger than the story whether it’s about the author, life, the world or yourself. And if it’s not then there’s probably not much point in reading it.
3. If you had to give advice to a budding writer on how to write a winning story, what would it be? Well, considering I am still a budding writer myself, I don’t necessarily feel entitled to give that advice. Also I find writing confusing as hell. But I guess what sometimes (there’s never an always with writing) works for me is just saying what I feel. Don’t think too much about it and if you’re going to follow any sort of rules or guidelines make sure you made them up yourself.
4. What’s your favourite word, and why? I have to be honest, I really don’t have a favourite word.
Read her winning story here.
GRADE 11/12 – Second Place – ANASTASIA GROMOVA
1.Your story, The Wolves, impresses on the reader a deftness of syntax, structure, and description. There’s a kind of controlled barrenness and lack of decoration to the narrative that feels perfectly emblematic of the forest in winter and the narrator’s aloneness. Explain how this story came about. It was a school assignment in a class I was taking – to write a short story. I actually went through a pretty painful process in coming up with ideas. However, I also recently watched the movie Hanna, and at the time it kind of kept me in that winter world and that’s how the reader is invited into it with this story. Also, I listened to a lot of mood setting music which kept me in the moment. I also feel it’s important to mention that this isn’t the whole story. I had to trim it because the original The Wolves was above the word limit.
2. Flannery O’Connor is quoted as saying, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Why do you write? I write because I can create worlds that don’t actually exist. For me it’s all about making an impact on your emotions – if you feel what the characters feel, then I have succeeded. I guess it’s also about self-reflection and sometimes you think your story means something and then years later the meaning changes as you go back.
3. Explain your writing process. I start with an idea. I plan it in my head – all the plot points, characters and the punch line. For this story, I sat in front of a piece of paper for a week and didn’t start writing until the 8th day. I tried a lot of writing prompts and different ideas: I made webs, lists of character traits and questions to help me along but bottom line is, I need an idea. An idea that I am passionate about and that just spills out on the page. After that, I wrote and edited several versions so it evolved into what you can see today.
4.What’s your favourite word, and why? I don’t have one. I thought of picking one word that I like but the truth is I like a lot of them. Transcend, inferno, surreal, wanderer – there are so many. I don’t have a favourite word because I think it’s the combinations of words that make them beautiful.