Looking for creative writing inspiration? Thinking of entering our 2016 Gareth Carnall Short Story Competition? Then you’ve come to the right place. We quizzed 2015 ArtBeat Short Story Competition winner Martha Yeoman (14) about her motivations, ideas and influences.
Grab yourself a cuppa, get comfortable and read on to find out more about Martha and to enjoy her winning story entry.
Martha’s Creative Writing Inspiration
Why did you decide to enter the ArtBeat short story competition?
I decided to enter for a couple of reasons. Firstly, my English teacher mentioned the competition to us in a lesson, which was great because I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise! A lot of people in my class decided not to go for it, but I did and I’m glad I did. Writing stories has always been something I loved, since I was about seven or eight, (although they weren’t exactly masterpieces back then…) and I figured it would be good experience to enter a competition – I love seeing what other people think about the things I write, and I love writing them!
What was the inspiration for your story?
Well, we were told that the theme of the story was ‘neighbourhood’, and our teacher said to try and expand on it rather than writing something boring. She suggested to us that we should consider all five of the senses when we write it, which got me thinking – what would it be like if one of those senses was taken away? I’ve lived here all my life, so i know the neighbourhood very well, but it was really interesting to try imagining the impression I would get of it if I only had four of my senses. I chose sight to take away, because a) I don’t think people realise how much they rely on what they can see, and b) it’s really fascinating to discover what you can still sense even if you can’t see.
How did you feel when you found out you’d won?
I was so happy! It’s kind of funny actually – I absolutely was not expecting to win, and I almost didn’t even turn up. I had all but forgotten that the winner was being announced, but then we were walking along Queen’s Road and I remembered, so my mum and I went into Fingerprints – and then it turned out that I had won! I’m really glad I did decide to go, because it would have been kind of awkward if I hadn’t…
How long have you been writing?
Like I said, I’ve been writing for a really long time – since I was probably seven or eight. Mind you, what I wrote back then was not great literature, to say the least. Although, I did once write a 118-page story about dragons, which I remember being super proud of. I still have it, so it’s sort of a reminder that you can always improve! It’s also quite funny to read, I illustrated it and everything!
How do you go about starting to write a story?
Normally I really struggle to write anything if I don’t have a theme to write about. This often comes from what mood I’m in, how I’m feeling, or something that has happened to me in the day. So I will usually make sure I have an idea in my head, sit down in an atmosphere that reflects the theme – home, the park, wherever – and just write! I’ve never been a fan of detailed plans, so I often have to write a first draft and then go back and improve it.
Can you give 3 tips for other would-be writers?
That’s hard! Probably… don’t be afraid to write something, even if at the time you don’t think it’s that great, because chances are one day you’ll look back on it and either really enjoy it or know exactly how to improve it. Don’t be shy to let other people read what you’ve written, whether it’s a teacher or a parent or a friend. Other people can always give you advice, and will have different opinions as someone who hasn’t written the piece, which is really helpful! Thirdly… always write! If you aren’t in the mood or don’t have the time to write a story, write a poem, even a haiku! Writing something keeps you inspired, and I frequently take inspiration from a poem or even a sentence that I wrote down when it came to me, and turn it into something even cooler.
And finally, what are your future writing ambitions?
I don’t really know what my ambitions are at the minute. I’m choosing GCSEs, so I haven’t had much time to write properly recently, but I still try to write poems whenever I can. I don’t really know where writing will take me, and I’m pretty happy to just go with it! Who knows what might happen, so I’ll just keep writing and reading and hope for the best!
“Neighbourhood” by Martha Yeoman
I tip my head back to the sky as warm fingers of sun stroke my face. The air is cool around me, and rustles softly in my hair, whispering around my ears. The noise of the summer fête buzzes in the back of my brain. Faint traces of music sing in the distance, the remnants of a melody that I know but can’t place. I keep catching the ends of people’s conversations as they walk past, my subconscious piecing together their lives as I listen – a family, discussing holiday plans; a group of teenage girls, chattering about boys and camping trips. A dog runs past, barking and squealing, with a small boy in tow. The smell of candy floss lingers in the air, and I can still taste the memory of ice cream on my lips. This street comes alive in the summer time. Children play out in the middle of the road, while their parents take the time to catch up with friends and colleagues. The whole community can join in with one huge game of football, even the elderly laughing like they’re young again. We’re all a family.
“Jones! How’ve you been?” the familiar voice breaks through the low drone of the crowd. A voice I know well. Soft and warm, happy and welcoming. The voice of someone who laughs a lot, and who you know is going to be beautiful just by hearing it. As for the name Jones – only one person would call me that. The name has stuck since primary school – a teacher who had been in the army, or so he claimed. A teacher who let you talk in lessons, who joined in with the kids playing cricket at break times. A teacher who, despite the headmaster disapproving, always read us a story in assembly. A teacher who only taught me for a year, but never – ever – forgot about me. I throw a thumbs up into the air, feeling a grin spreading across my face. This wins a distant chuckle, and laughter from some nearby kids, but I don’t mind.
“Good to hear! I’d stay and catch up, but the wife’s expecting sausages for the barbecue – see you around, soldier!” the voice called. I grin even more, and waggle my fingers in a gesture of farewell. I sit back against the wooden bench. A soldier, that’s what I am. And I have a lot to fight for.
A sweet sound dances towards my ears – someone is playing the guitar, soft and slow, singing a simple tune alongside it. The words tickle my mind, calming my excited thoughts. She is too far away to catch what she is singing about – she’s probably on the stage a bit further down the road – but I can hear a few words dotted here and there. Something about sun, and then something about smiles, and then something about whispering. It’s beautiful, whatever it is. I smile, then, drinking in the afternoon warmth. I’ve always had a strange love of sitting in the sun, ever since I was a little boy. Surely, everyone does – particularly mums, it seems. But, no, I have something different. I feel something special, sitting out in the sunlight. I feel special.
My thoughts are derailed by a small noise from my wrist. A soft beeping, quiet but persistent. I sigh – I know what that means. I take in one last breath through my nose, tasting the last traces of summer laughter in the air. I can still hear voices, but they’re beginning to grow distant. I get the feeling that most of the people who attended the fair have gone, and those who put on the shows, who decorated the stalls, who baked the cakes, are beginning to pack up and leave. That means it’s time for me to leave, too. I sit up, fumbling at my side. The wood of the bench is warm to the touch, still holding on to the thinning rays of sun. My fingers finally clasp around the cool metal of my stick. I slide my hands down it until I feel the soft leather grip, and lean on it as I stand up. I let it graze across the ground in front of me, and adjust myself as I feel it thud against the lamppost. I should really name that lamppost – I sit here almost every day, and it’s there every day, too. There to remind me which way is home. I tap the stick along the ground, feeling for the edge of the pavement. I turn my face briefly into the sun, into the fading joy of the fair that still hangs there. I’ll be back, I told the sun. I’ll be back when you are, back on my bench, back listening to the hundreds of familiar voices that make up this neighbourhood. Listening to the voices, feeling the warmth, loving every second of it. Because I don’t need to see it. It’ll always be here. Always be mine. I smile slightly as I turn back, and start my walk down the now quiet road home.