I write while I walk, a good way of getting oxygen and inspiration. I work on the move. I, and other people, have the bruises to prove it. When I develop stories in my head, taste and test words, I forget the pedestrian world. I bump into Sunday strollers; my encounters are close and painful. One Sunday I bumped into Dracula.
I had just collided with a runner. Height and weight were on his side. I forgot the story I’d been plotting and took refuge in the small park which is close to Bram Stoker’s childhood home. Then I remembered I was on vampire territory. I sat on a bench to check for blood. There wasn’t a bat in sight. Not yet.
The park is tranquil and self-contained. It feels no need to offer you more than grass, trees and a few garden seats. It’s a good place for reflection. The bench on which I sat gave me a clear view of the house where Stoker lived. He had spent his childhood in a quiet suburb and grown up to create that wild creature, Dracula. The contrast between the calm setting and Stoker’s unsettling story intrigued me. What would happen if Dracula appeared one afternoon in this park? Could I conjure him up?
And, suddenly, I had a story. I wrote it in my head as I limped home, accompanied every step of the way by a bloodsucking bat. I sat at the computer and tapped in the title: Sunday in the Park with the Vampire.
The story had been inspired by one historic house and location. I knew where it should go. I’d enter it for a competition: The Corazon Books/ Historic House Short Story Competition 2014.
Walking helps me to write. I have another valuable aid: I enter literary competitions. People who run these competitions have my gratitude, without their hard work I’d be writing for my computer.
I always gain when I enter a competition. I know my work will be read and considered. When I don’t get listed – and that happens often – I cast a critical eye on my story or poem and go back to the keyboard, determined to do better. This, in my view, is a positive result.
There are other positive results. I have been longlisted and shortlisted in competitions. The memory sustains me when I wrestle with the next story. Writing is a solitary activity but entering the Date With An Agent competition, and meeting agents in Dublin Castle, made me aware that if you want to succeed as a writer you have to be disciplined – writing is a business. And entering a competition got me published. The first time I saw a story of mine in print was in May this year. This was due to the fact that I’d won the Ireland’s Own Original Writing Competition 2014 (Beginners’ Section) and it was part of the prize.
I owe a lot to competitions and competition organisers. The organisers are invisible, most of the time, and only appear as names on letters and emails. I’ll invite them all to dinner, if ever I win the lottery. They can hold me to that.
Given my positive feelings about competitions, I entered my vampire story for the Corazon Books/Historic House Short Story Competition. The competition appealed to me because, like a bat, I’m attracted to old houses and because the competition was associated with the Irish writer, Catherine Gaskin. When I was young her books could be found nearly everywhere; she had global sales. Catherine Gaskin was a storyteller – I always stayed with her until the last page. I was glad a competition remembered her and I wanted to be part of it, even if my story disappeared without a trace.
But it didn’t. I won the competition and heard that Sunday in the Park with the Vampire would form part of an anthology, Come into the House, to be published by Corazon Books/Wyndham Media Ltd in 2015. My habit of writing as I walked, and then entering competitions, rewarded me with an email which kept a smile on my face for the rest of that month.
I want to be a writer and know I’ll be learning the craft all my life. I completed an M.F.A in Creative Writing. It was an excellent course and my teachers and mentors demanded the best from me. I have also taken courses in the Irish Writers’ Centre and intend to do so in the future. My ghost will probably haunt that house on Parnell Square.
I’ll continue to write in my head as I walk. And I hope to enter more competitions – even if I never get listed in one again.
Now where’s that story I wrote about life on Mars?
(c) Kathryn Burke
Come into the House: Tales of secrets, history and mystery
A new short story anthology which celebrates the “secrets, history and mystery” of historic houses.
These ten tales, inspired by or set in a historic house, are the winning entries of the Historic House short story competition run by Corazon Books in partnership with the Historic Houses Association. Stories to thrill, chill and entertain.
Also includes a bonus extract of The Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin, set in a fictional earl’s ancestral home, in the dramatic landscape of England’s Lake District, and information about the Historic Houses Association and the historic house Levens Hall in Cumbria.