Helen Laycock’s short stories, flash and poetry appear in a variety of anthologies and magazines, and, along with play-writing, have met with degrees of competition success, the most recent being a longlisting with Mslexia and a 1st placing at Lucent Dreaming. She has been commissioned as a lead writer at Visual Verse and has featured in several editions of The Best of CafeLit. Recently, pieces have been showcased in the Cabinet of Heed and by Reflex Fiction. Her poetry has appeared in Popshot, Poems for Grenfell (Onslaught) and Full Moon and Foxglove (Three Drops Press) and has been incorporated into a U.S. art exhibition. Her children’s poetry has been twice published in The Caterpillar magazine. She is employed as a writer by an educational publisher and has penned nine children’s books for 8-12-year-olds. Two of her short stories ‘The Feeding’ and ‘Split Decision’ were published in issue 5 of Lucent Dreaming.
Hi Jannat, and thank you for including two of my pieces in Issue 5 of the wonderful Lucent Dreaming.
It’s an honour and a pleasure! For the folks at home, what inspired your pieces ‘The Feeding’ and ‘Split Decision’ and how did they find their way to Lucent Dreaming?
At one time, I entered a lot of writing competitions, but as my focus shifted more to getting my own books published, that side of writing drifted away. In those dry moments between typing furiously, I dipped into Twitter, and there before me, like a glowing mirage, was an invitation to submit a piece to Lucent Dreaming using the theme ‘Lead’. Serendipity!
Probably like most writers, I have always been interested in the darker side of characters’ behaviour and ‘Lead’ immediately threw up the disturbing subject of abduction. To have a woman involved seemed to deepen the impact; that females are often presumed to be the primary nurturers in society, and yet are capable of such deeds, challenges our assumptions.
This was uncomfortable to write. I was unable to create a wholly evil character, so I created a ‘split personality’, the term that we often (incorrectly) use for schizophrenic episodes where voices are heard, often issuing instructions. The narrator represents the passive victim who struggles as ‘Mary’, the voice in her head, bullies her into doing her bidding.
I was delighted when ‘Split Decision’ was pronounced the winner of Lucent Dreaming’s inaugural Flash Competition.
The concurrent invitation to submit pieces using the theme of ‘Light’ reminded me of a story I had already written – ‘The Feeding’. This had been something of a detour for me. I usually write dark or comedic stories, and nothing between. It is a tale of wish-fulfilment, with an element of something that hovers somewhere between the supernatural and religious, I suppose. The inspiration had simply been me gazing out of the window one evening and seeing a glow in the foliage. What could it be? Cue imagination… I was astounded to hear that this had also been chosen to appear in the same issue. Thank you.
The first (and hopefully not last time) we’ve published more than one piece by the same author. Both, of course, excellent. What does writing and art mean to you?
Being able to slide into other worlds, to get inside the heads and experience the motivation of a plethora of characters, to discover the joy of language is an absolute privilege. Without reading, writing or imagination, life would just be a straight concrete road; with them, there is a winding path that can take me anywhere. Every day I slip into other lives, and that enriches my own.
What are you most excited about right now and what writing/creative projects are you currently working on?
I have never really settled into writing for one readership, or in one form. I have written several novels for children and I would love to get an agent or publisher for my most recent book which is currently nestled in the dark recesses of my computer.
I love writing poetry and have amassed a huge personal collection. Again, I would be delighted if these were to be discovered and published.
Flash and short stories have always been on the agenda, too. I have just released my fourth collection entitled Confessions (humorous, not criminal!) and there are two more in the pipeline; I think the next will be a compilation of fairy tales for adults called Wingin’ It and, after that, a more psychological collection will rear its head which will be entitled The Darkening.
Tell us about some of your favourite books or art you’ve experienced – of all time or more recently. Why are they favourites?
If a piece of writing can elicit an emotion or reaction from the reader, then the writer has done a good job.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is testament to what an incredible, intelligent writer she is. She skilfully leads us through such a variety of experiences with such eloquence and attention to the breadth of language to which we all have access but rarely employ; it made me realise how much more we are capable of exploring, and affecting, through the medium of words.
I once heard Simon Armitage recite a poem about the sea and I bought his book ‘Walking Away’ – his journal about walking the South West Coastal Path – just because the poem was in it. It’s called ‘From Where I Stand’ and asks questions about the sea. It does exactly what a poem should do; it makes you want to feel the words tumble in your mouth, painting pictures and leaving an echo.
‘Hurricanes rake at its back, the full moon
drags it along by its hair, forked lightning
prongs at its flesh…’
I mean… Just brilliant.
What advice would you give those who want to do what you do?
Write tight. Don’t waste words; make each one work by choosing the most appropriate for the job.
Avoid repeats, or giving unnecessary information. Every sentence should be essential in moving the plot forward.
Write fresh; find a new way of expressing something that has been covered so many times before in similar ways.
Be brutal in your edits; imagine a life or death situation. You have to make your point in so many words. Can you do it?
Write every day. For the last year I have been partaking in #vss365 (very short story, 365 days of the year) on Twitter. A prompt word is given each day and writers are encouraged to write a meaningful tweet using it. It’s great discipline and will make you really work on how to achieve a story arc or poetic philosophy within 280 characters.
Where can people see more of you and your work?
I have four websites where I share writing samples and book information:
I (sporadically) write a blog
Oh, and all of my books are on Amazon
Thanks for some thought-provoking questions, Jannat!