Uche Okonkwo’s story – Neverland won the 2013 short story competition for Etisalat! I have read it three times already and still find it funny, touching and a little chilling as well. For a story that is shorter than 500 words, Neverland has several different layers to it and it’s no real surprise that it stood out for the judges. It’s an excellent example of what a really short story can accomplish and Uche is a brilliant writer.
Check out my interview with her below:
1. How did you feel when your story was chosen for the Etisalat prize?
I felt very happy, and validated as well. It’s always a good thing to get recognition for one’s effort, especially with something like writing that’s a solitary endeavour.
2. Do you enter competitions often?
I enter as many competitions as I can. I tend to avoid contests where the organisers give a ‘theme’ to write on, except if I already have a story that fits said theme. I submit for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize every year, and have been doing so since 2008. I tend to avoid contests where one has to pay a fee to submit, mostly because this feels too much like gambling to me.
3. I have read a few of your blog posts and this story confirms it – you have a witty voice. Do you consider yourself a writer of satire?
I use satire sometimes, but I don’t necessarily consider myself a writer of satire. The style I choose to write in depends on a combination of how I feel about a subject and what tone I think will best get the message across.
4. What inspired your story?
Neverland was inspired by nostalgia, a longing for childhood innocence and simpler times. Hindsight is interesting to me, more so because it’s always belated.
5. How many drafts did it take before you were happy with your story?
I don’t remember how many drafts this story went through before it was done. The original version was longer, over 600 words I think. But to enter it for the Etisalat Prize I had to cut it down to 300 words or less before it was done. But generally speaking, there’s hardly been a case where I feel like I’m happy enough with a story that I think there’s nothing else to be done – even if it’s just inserting a comma. There’s always something that can be changed, until it’s submitted and out of my hands.
6. Do you consider your story to be a short story or flash fiction?
I consider it to be more of flash fiction than short story, simply because of its length.
7. How can you distinguish between the two forms?
I don’t think it’s a hard distinction to make, and I do it by length. If a story is 1,000 words or less I think of it as flash fiction. Any longer and I consider it a short story.
8. What tips would you give to anyone wanting to write flash fiction?
Read flash fiction. Also, I think flash fiction is about capturing small moments, like using a zoom lens. Some people end up writing ‘flash fiction’ that reads like the summary of a longer story. For me, the trick is to strip the story down to its basics, to that narrative arc that can be made whole in just a few words. Anything that isn’t essential needs to go. For example, when I first wrote Neverland it was over 600 words long (which still makes it flash fiction). But having to trim it down to 300, I realised the story really did not need the other 300 or so words.
9. If you could be a book, what book would you be?
I wouldn’t want to be a book. But two favourites that come to mind are Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.
10. What project are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a short story collection.
Check out the winning story here: Neverland
To link with her: