Today I am talking to Mark Walker, writer about his experiences with Twisted 50.
Thank you for talking to me today, so, just to start off, what exactly is Twisted 50?
It is, essentially, a competition for authors writing short stories with, wait for it... a ‘twist’ in the tail. Horror seems to be the flavour of the month. So anyone with a creative flair for the dark and mysterious would fit right in. It’s part of the CREATE 50 Initiative and the idea is to end up with 50 great stories to include in a published volume of short stories.
Okay, I’ll bite, what’s Create 50 then?
Create 50 is the mother project to Twisted , it’s a platform for emerging screenwriters, film-makers, novelists, short story writers and allied artists to showcase their work and get it “out there”.
Out...’there’... where it can be seen by like-minded people, other creatives, people in the industry. It’s about getting writers some exposure as well as feedback on their work.
Yeah, the beauty of the CREATE 50 initiative is that it is a Community. By taking part in the TWISTED competition, you open your work up to every other writer in the CREATE 50 community and they are able to read and share advice, guidance, support or just a good old, virtual slap on the back. We’re in this together, as the website tells you and this process helps make us all better writers.
So how did you find out about Twisted 50?
I follow a variety of writerly people on Twitter and Facebook including Lucy V Hay, author and champion of writers, who was also a winner in Twisted Volume 1 --
Wait, there’s another volume?
Yes, sorry, I took part in Volume 2 which has just closed to submissions. Lucy won a place in Volume 1 with a great little tale, “The Retribution of Elsie Buckle.”
Sorry, you were saying.
Yeah, Lucy also runs the Bang2Write pages on Facebook that I have been signed up to for a while and I was intrigued by a number of posts about Twisted Volume 1. I clicked on a few links and found myself at the CREATE 50 website and, before I realised, I was signed up with an account.
So then what?
So then I started reading some of the stories that had already been submitted. There was a huge variety including zombies, blood, ghosts, vampires, blood, demons, killers, murder, blood... you get the idea. I got a feel for the sort of stories that were being submitted and got to work thinking about my own.
And what about this ‘feedback’ you mentioned?
Yeah, for every story you submit, the community ethos asks you to review and comment on three other stories, but that’s not a problem at all, as they are all very short-stories
2,000 words a piece, maximum, can be shorter if you like. I read a few one-pagers, even one that was just a couple of sentences.
Isn’t that cheating?
Of course not, sometimes the shorter the better. A good story is a good story, regardless of how long it takes to tell it. Mine were all just under the 2,000 limit, but then I like to get my money’s worth!
So what stories did you submit?
I submitted three in the end. I started with SPIDER, a tale of hairy revenge on a lifelong killer of spiders. Randy the extermination guy gets a rude awakening one night after work.
I hate spiders.
So do a lot of people, so that’s why I chose them, you have to understand what makes people feel uncomfortable, what gets under their skin. With spiders, you know you have a good proportion of your readers with sweaty-palms just from reading the title.
Okay, so after the spiders?
My second story, TEETHING TROUBLE, recounts an experiment gone wrong.
An experiment? Like with Bunsen Burners?
No, like with killer sharks; they’re a lot scarier than Bunsen Burners. It’s a story of scientific advances gone wrong and what happens when you try to telepathically control a savage beast. I also like sharks.
You said three?
Well, I was coming to that, but someone keeps interrupting me. The third story, TUNNEL, is my favourite. A simple tale of what might be lurking inside motorway tunnels for the unwary.
Sounds delightful. So how did you come up with your ideas?
That’s the big question isn’t it? One that I suspect every writer gets asked and the real answer is, to be honest, they just come to me. This isn’t to say that I am some sort of writing genius from whom ideas spill forth like a glorious fountain of truth; just that I find inspiration from everywhere.
Like swimming with sharks?
Well not exactly, although I have (sort of). No, what I mean is that inspiration and ideas can come from anywhere, and often when you least expect it. Watching the news; checking social media; talking to friends and family; reading the newspaper; or your kids. All it takes is for someone to say something that triggers your imagination and you’re away. Just today I was in a meeting discussing “probes” and an idea came to me for a Sci-Fi short. I don’t go looking for ideas, but I am always ready to take note of something that sounds interesting.
So where did the inspiration for your TWISTED stories come from, if it wasn’t swimming with sharks?
For SPIDER, I have forgotten. It was an idea I remember having years ago, before I even considered myself a writer (I’m not sure I do now, but that is an interview for another day) and it has just been rattling around in my head for years. TEETHING TROUBLE was just a TV programme that made me think about telepathy and then animals and BOOM; put them together and away you go. The last one, TUNNEL, is based on a game we play with the kids in the car and me thinking one day, when winding them up, what if there were monsters in that tunnel?
You play that game with your kids?
Yeah? Why not? We haven’t lost one yet. It’s a lot more fun without monsters.
I guess. So you don’t really have a process for generating ideas?
Possibly, although it’s like our Constitution, it’s not written down, it’s just something I follow-subconsciously. But I think the “what if” question is really key. You can spice any mundane thing into something more interesting with just that question “what if”... you know... “what if Spiders sought revenge on a pest controller,” or “what if the bottle of water you are drinking is really filled with mind-controlling nano-bots?”
Nothing, did you have any other questions?
Yeah, does it cost?
No... the Twisted thing?
Well, nothing in life is free of course, but it is as near as damn it. With a £7 entry fee per story, I think it is pretty good value for money. That also gets you access to feedback from the community and the chance to submit up to three drafts of each story. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the price.
So why did you take part?
Well, basically because it was something different. I do not have a long history of writing short-stories. I have mainly been developing my skills as a screenwriter for the last few years and, while I really enjoy that process, I was struggling at the end of last year to keep pushing forward with some of the stuff I was working on. I may not have realised it at the time, but I needed a distraction, and TWISTED gave me that distraction. It took me away from the work I had “stagnated” with, and gave me something new to focus on, something that gave much faster results. You can write a short-story in a matter of hours, whereas a full length screenplay can take months, if not longer, especially when you also work full-time.
You’re impatient then?
Maybe, but writing can also be a lonely experience and cutting yourself off from everything can be hard work sometimes. TWISTED was a much less isolating experience.
If you like? The whole process helped refresh me and renew my love of writing. It led to me entering another, unrelated, competition as well as returning to my screenwriting with new found passion. And the community aspect of the initiative is one of its strengths. I wrote my first story, posted it, paid the fee and had feedback within 24 hours. By the time I had uploaded my third story I had feedback from dozens of writers, had offered feedback to dozens more and was already making new friends and connections with other writers online... almost without even realising it. I was even able to help a fellow writer who had an interest in astronomy!
Were they writing a story about the stars?
No, they had just bought a telescope and I’m also an amateur astronomer but, again, that’s for another interview.
So would you do it again?
In a (blood-spurting) heart-beat. It was a great experience. It was fun to do, it was enlightening and I learned a great deal from the other writers I shared feedback with; writers with a wide range of experience and knowledge, but all of them passionate about writing and keen to help each other out; a refreshing change from some of the vitriol and ‘anger’ that you can find in certain corners of the internet!
And, you know what? It really doesn’t take a lot of time. As I said, writing a 2,000 word story doesn’t take a long time, although making it a GOOD story can take a bit longer. But reading a 2,000 word (or less) story is even quicker, so any thoughts of, “oh no, I have to read something as well,” are completely unfounded. And, anyway, the reading part (and giving feedback) is just as important as the writing and receiving part.
CREATE 50 is not just about TWISTED either, there are a number of projects you can read about on their website and the SINGULARITY 50 is currently accepting stories about Artificial Intelligence gone wrong until the 31st March, plenty of time to get typing!
So would you recommend it to other writers?
Definitely. You really can’t lose taking part in something like this. It is fun, it’s a learning experience, it is an opportunity to share and test ideas, you can meet new people, and it’s cheap. Also, I should have mentioned this before, the ultimate plan is to publish a collection of the best stories – and you could be part of that. What more could you ask for?
Okay... if that floats your boat. Maybe they’ll consider that if you enter Twisted 50 Volume 3?
And what advice would you give to other writers thinking about taking part?
Just go for it, don’t be frightened to get stuck in. Even if you don’t win a place in Volume 2, you will get feedback on your work and that can only be a good thing to improve you as a writer.
Do read lots. Don’t just read the three you are asked to read per submission. Writing is reading as much as writing, in my opinion, and everything you read helps make you a better writer. But, it also gives you a feel for what types of things are being submitted and can help you focus on the genre/mood that the competition is aimed at.
Don’t get redraft happy. Even with three drafts available to you, if you have the time, wait for more than one bit of feedback before re-drafting. Don’t change something as soon as someone reads your work. Make your redrafts work for you!
Finally, don’t be afraid to give feedback even if you are a complete beginner like me. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have as a writer, everyone knows what they like in a story and what works for them. Just remember that it is YOUR opinion and someone else’s hard work, so be gentle and remember to think about feedback as a constructive critique, rather than simply criticising something because you don’t like it.
Sounds like good advice, I might have a go myself.
Go for it, what’s the worst that could happen?
I don’t win a place in the book?
Well, that would be disappointing, but the whole initiative is about more than that. Even if I don’t win a place in TWISTED Volume 2, I will have learned a lot, read a lot, and made some new, great contacts and friends. It’s a win-win to be honest.
In that case, where do I sign up?
Check out http://www.create50.com/ and just get stuck in!
Have you got a pen?
You’re the one taking notes.
Oh, yeah, thanks. And thank you for your time.
No problem, my pleasure.