I find that short stories hit me in all sorts of different ways, but I'm going through an unusual process with one at the moment.
Before arriving here I worked up a list of very brief short story ideas for development into a collection. One of them was called 'We want to set things on fire', and it was about two people in office jobs who felt caged and tried to reconnect with their wild sides by having an office affair.
A bit flat, but I figured I'd be able to flesh it out.
As I was thinking about this story, I heard about a rural school fundraiser that involves a dead possum dress-up competition, and I decided to set the story in a small town and make my sexually frustrated protagonists parents who were helping set up for the school fair.
Hmm, maybe slightly better.
Then I attended the National Writers Forum, where there was a lot of discussion about why we tell the stories we tell, and who can be lifted up or brought down by our stories. And I thought that although it would be funny to write about a couple of hicks who dress up dead possums because they don't have anything better to do, it would make for a pretty one-dimensional story.
At around the same time I posted (quite innocently, I thought!) about an animal welfare issue on Facebook, and inadvertently provoked some heated responses from farmers and vegetarians. (I'm a vegetarian but I'm also from a family of farmers, and I don't consider myself a "farmer basher".) This made me think about Brene Brown's book Rising Strong, which I listened to on audio book during my first week on this residency. I didn't think much of the book at the time, but one of her key messages is that everyone's doing the best they can. And that's actually a pretty good message to try to remember.
All of this has found its way into my story, which now looks as though it's going to be about two people who have very different views about whether or not it's okay to dress up dead possums at a school fair. In this telling of the story, neither of the characters is a caricature (well I certainly hope they're not), and crucially, both of them are doing their absolute best - even though they have very different world views.
Oh, and the whole affair idea has totally gone.
So, this is now a very different story, but however it turns out - I'm doing the best I can.
Thank you to The Creative Hub and Earthskin Retreat for the opportunity to undertake this residency.
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.