English Literature and Creative Writing student Eoin Malone “shouted out loud” when ‘The Gods of Little Things’ had been selected for BBC Radio Four’s latest series of New Frequencies, a short story showcase for new writers aged 16-21. Fellow New Frequencies contributor, Creative Writing student Callum McGee, had prayed for a sign. When he found the good news sitting in his email inbox, he “jumped out of the house”: “I was delighted that I had proved my inner demons wrong,” says the author of ‘The Ice Demon of Mount Crooked’.
They’d found out about the opportunity from the show’s producer, Jeremy Osborne, a guest at one of the department’s regular careers events.
“I sat up in my chair,” says Eoin. “I wrote this story, ‘The Gods of Little Things’, sent it off, and crossed my fingers. This was in February. When I got the good news, it was the middle of July. By then, I’d assumed the story was a dud. I was absolutely delighted to be proven wrong. My family gave it the full five stars. But I think I owe at least three of those stars to Edmund Kingsley, who read the story masterfully.”
Family – and its support – is important to these two aspiring wordsmiths. Callum’s grandma was in tears, while Eoin’s nan always seems to be there when he has writing success. She was there again when the good news broke this time round. Eoin suggests she’s his lucky charm.
Perhaps fittingly, Eoin’s story takes a sideways look at the seemingly random nature of luck:
“I’m not a superstitious person but I’ve always been interested in those weird moments of luck that seem to happen in life, maybe when you really needed a chair at the library, and there was one, and there was a computer free, and the printer was working. Everything goes your way when you really, really need it to. And alternatively, things seem to go absolutely disastrously sometimes, when you really could have done with them going at least a little bit right. And I wondered what sort of forces might be at play there. That was kind of the starting point, I think.”
From the author of ‘The Ice Demon of Mount Crooked’, it’s perhaps not surprising that Callum takes inspiration from one of his favourite writers, Stephen King:
“Stories that bridge the gap between the living and the dead, and tackle mysteries our brains are wired to fear inspire me to tread the creepiest territories. Terrifying concepts, like a mysterious burial ground that reanimates the deceased, or a dangerous psychopath who will kill and torture without pity or mercy. These scary mysteries will hook readers because they’re just as much in the dark as the protagonists as to whether they’ll survive.”
Short story-writing is just one of the many different forms students explore on the BA (Hons) Creative Writing degree. Many arrive with the sole aim of writing a thick, satisfying epic. Most leave with several strings to their bow, and an understanding of how they can hone their writing skills for a variety of literary forms, for maximum impact. A short story can be as memorable as a 1000-page doorstopper. A novel can be as poetic as a Shakespearean sonnet.
“For a long time, I felt the short story was a problem to be solved rather than a format to excel in,” explains Eoin. “I always had ‘novel’ ideas – not in the sense that they were always ‘new’, but they were always long. I wrote a lot of short stories which did their best to pack these novel ideas into a little box, and it never worked. The format finally clicked for me when I realised the short story is often at its best when it perfectly captures a moment in time. Novels are rich tapestries, and they have their place, but short stories have their power in being these little silver bullets. When written well they take their shot and leave no deficit in impact. I hope my story at least demonstrates the first, messy applications of what I’ve learnt.”
Callum too, enjoyed the loosening of constraints that comes with experimenting with different formats:
“Writing short stories is like opening and closing a door. I enjoy pulling readers in with fictional horror settings, such as describing creepy, gothic creatures and locations that will pique their curiosity and gradually build fear. Though it’s a brief experience, I aim to leave an impact on readers, encouraging them to ponder on a plot twist or strange ending.
“I can write more bizarre plots in short stories, too. I write chapters of a novel in weekly bursts of energy. You have to keep track of plot holes and inconsistencies, rework various character arcs, and so on. Short stories are more lenient with creative freedom. They can be symbolic or metaphorical, such as an artifice short story, which centres around impossible plot devices in realistic settings. An example of artifice would be a pair of magic boots that enable people to jump to the top of skyscrapers.”
“Storytelling helps us to connect and relate as humans,” explains Sarah Schofield, Lecturer in Creative Writing. “A successful short story offers a glimpse down a microscope at something vital that might otherwise be overlooked or passed by. It might surprise, or delight or reconnect us with a memory or feeling or experience. It might affirm or challenge our thoughts and beliefs. The best ones are gently persuasive, they make the reader feel acknowledged and respected. They don’t preach or shout at us. They entertain and enlighten. Our students learn how to approach and hone their skills with the short story and use this adaptable and intriguing form of storytelling to explore the world, engage with the reader and connect with this powerful draw to story we all experience as humans. Both Eoin and Callum’s stories achieve this in different ways. This diversity is the joy of the short story.”
Eoin has now graduated, Callum’s in his final year as an undergraduate. They will both take away from Edge Hill honed and sharpened writing skills, as well as a versatility that will help them train their pens on a whole range of career opportunities.
Callum has grown in confidence over the course of his creative writing degree. Initially incredibly shy, the course encouraged him to share his work, and to “find [his] writer’s voice”:
“I didn’t let fellow students read my writing at first due to fear of being judged and discouraged. However, the Edge Hill University Creative Writing course taught me that every writer has a unique voice and that you shouldn’t compare your work to others. When I shared my work with tutors and fellow students, they helped me find my writer’s voice, by encouraging us to free-write. These exercises helped me find my unique writing style by allowing me to get all my ideas down and edit them later.”
Meanwhile, Eoin feels the wide-ranging nature of Edge Hill’s creative writing course has helped him to find drive and focus, and inspiration from established writers such as Donna Tartt, Roberto Bolaño, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s short stories:
“Learning to read texts as a writer has helped me understand and articulate the breadth of techniques, genres, subjects, and styles that can come together to make a creative piece. I’ve experimented with a range of forms and doing so has helped me to feel out a niche for myself. I’ve learnt discipline, and the need to just sit down and write, even if you feel you can’t – stories don’t happen any other way!”
We can see the course aims to prepare students to hit the page running, across a range of genres. Tutors encourage our fledgling writers to enter competitions, while inviting guests into the lecture room to share their experiences. Often they come bearing opportunity, such as the BBC’s Jeremy Osborne.
And Sarah Schofield is thrilled when her students take advantage of course opportunities to progress their writing careers:
“Engaging with the contemporary literary landscape – print, online and via broadcast – is baked into our modules, ensuring our students have the tools to engage with industry. We invite professionals, writers, publishers and commissioners, such as Sweet Talk’s Jeremy Osborne into lectures and for Creative Symposium events so that students not only see ways to connect with the industry, but also to give them networking opportunities.
“But it all begins in the workshop, where students may be sharing their work with a reader for the first time, and they begin to understand the special journey a story takes as it travels from their imagination into the imagination of another human and the wonderful, powerful and significant ways this can operate.”
So what else is in store for Callum and Eoin?
As Eoin signs up for Edge Hill University’s MA in Creative Writing, he’s also “keeping [his] fingers crossed” about a one-act play submitted to the University’s Dame Janet Suzman Playwriting Prize. He’s also developed a script with Northern Broadsides Theatre Company as part of their Young Writers’ Forge. And as with all writers, he wrestles with his nemesis on a regular basis: “I’m also slowly hammering out what I hope will be my first novel. I work on it with equal parts love and hate.”
Callum is simply looking to continue to grow as a writer:
“I want to further my writing goals by attending writing workshops outside of the University, making connections with writers, and continuing to study and improve my writing craft.”
Find out more about Creative Writing at Edge Hill University
September 26, 2022