Q & A with Rachel Blake, 1st prize winner in our June 2022 Award

It’s just over two weeks until our 22nd Award closes on Sunday October 9th. And here’s a Q & A with Rachel Blake our first prize winner, from the 21st Award. Rachel won with her story ‘Sequelae’. She talks about how she wrote this powerfully impactful piece, which was selected by judge, Tommy Dean, and we have reproduced his comments below, just before her answers to the questions. It’s worth a read of both if you want to look over your own pieces again and submit to the next Award which is judged by Emily Devane. There’s lots of interesting things to think about in Tommy’s comments and the interview with Rachel. At the end she’s offered a visual prompt to inspire you to write a story in the time that is left before the deadline.

Tommy Dean’s comments
“I’m a sucker for a long winding sentence that does its best to cram in as much pertinent information as possible. I love how the first sentence winds around like the neighbors’ cars taking them to work. I love a story that has such a fierce desire, the truth of waiting for others to leave, to have this private moment. I love that we as the reader are privy to this private moment, one that resonates in its pain, its search for relief. I love how we are on this search for the best place to exert our emotion alongside the character, how specific the details are here, how specific the places of retreat are, how they help me see the character’s desperation, to feel it, to won it. How really screaming isn’t enough, how art isn’t helpful, how frustration is somehow sentient, an antagonist. A masterful portrayal of unmet desire.”

Q & A with Jude, September 2022

  • Congratulations again for winning first prize in our June Award with your brilliant story,’Sequelae’. Can you tell us how it came into being — the inspiration, the structure, the choice of title?
    The story started with an image—light filtered through leaves, the trees far above. I knew there was violence in the light, pain in watching the leaves shift. The sense of something being over and yet not over, which is where the title comes from— the term ‘sequelae’ meaning the effects that continue after a trauma has passed. The image was in my mind for years and I tried to write the story several times beginning with the image of the leaves, but it never came together, and then one morning, taking a break from working on the novel, the first line came, and the whole thing came in a rush, almost like I was following the words, and the image of leaves ended up being in the end, rather than beginning. For the screaming—years ago when I was living in San Francisco I used to bike early in the morning to the ruins of the Sutro Baths on Ocean Beach, and scream into the sound of the waves, it was one of the few places private enough in my world to do that. The narrator needs that private place, she couldn’t scream during the rape, and so it is happening still inside her, and she needs to scream to get it out, to stop it
  • I think you received news of your win on the very day you were moving from the U.K. to the US. What was it like to receive the news at that point?
    It was surreal to find out I’d won! Through all the stages of being long listed then short listed, we were frantically trying to clear out the house before we moved—each email I received was a wonderful shock, but I didn’t have time to really think about it fully. I never imagined I could actually win first prize! I got the final email that I’d won the day we moved. We’d just dropped off the house keys at the estate agent and I was feeling lost, unmoored, getting ready to go to the airport, and then I read your message. I couldn’t believe it—I actually jumped up and down. All during the very stressful move to NY, every time I thought of winning, it was this bubble of happiness that helped get me through the transition.
  • You also write longer form fiction and have recently completed a novel. Can you tell us more about it?
    Have you always written both longer and very short pieces?
    The novel I’ve just finished is called ‘TAIL’—trauma and its sequelae are also at the base of the book. To the narrator, Katie, animals make more sense than humans. She feels disconnected inside, that something inhabits her that she doesn’t understand. I’m interested in the way that trauma splits the body, the simultaneous knowing and not knowing, and how for women, the hormonal shifts at puberty, during childbirth and menopause, can further that gap. How to know the self, close the gap and find wholeness—this is the goal. For Katie, it’s through dance, and the destructive relationship with her narcissistic dance teacher who is manipulative, abusive, but also mentors her, helping Katie find and express the savagery at her core, which is also her strength, what she needs to face what happened to her. The book follows dual storylines, of Katie at puberty and menopause, the two narratives colliding at the point of trauma.

    I’ve always written both short and long pieces. I started by journaling and writing poetry when I was in primary school, then short stories when I was at University. In my 20s I moved to Paris to write a novel, which was very disjointed and never saw the light of day. Since then I’ve written both, starting my morning writing with short pieces, to clear myself out, to protect the structure of the book.

  • In your bio you mention that you have lived in many different places around the world. How do you think this influences your writing?
    Living in different cultures is exciting, shakes me out of myself, makes me see other people, the world and who I am more clearly, which helps my writing feel fresh.<
  • We are in the final few weeks of the October 2022 Award. Can you give us a story prompt to inspire last minute writers?
    Story Prompt:
    Start with an image—perhaps this one here, or one that you don’t fully understand, or that has always stayed with you, or is vivid for reasons that aren’t clear. Free write the story behind the image without including the image itself, or only including it at the end.

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