Visitors were asked to write a short story on modern celebrity. The winner would get star billing on the Steffi site as well as having Andrew Crofts as a mentor to help work up the story into a novel, find an agent, publisher and so on.
“A REALITY SHOW CALLED ‘FINDING ABBY’?”
Four days a week Veronica is a legal executive with a firm of solicitors, but the fifth is her writing day. On top of that she goes to weekly creative writing classes and writes for 15/20 minutes every morning on a given theme, an exercise she learned from 'A Writer's Book of Days’ by Judy Reeves.
‘It’s like doing your morning exercises,’ she explains, ‘keeping the writing muscles toned up! And it's good practice for writing something whether you're in the mood or not. Often the writing leads me into quite dark areas - hidden desires, motives, strange goings on. Or the complexities of relationships - endlessly fascinating, terrifyingly fragile. The creative writing class is brilliant for sharing ideas, and learning from other writers who understand the pinnacles and pitfalls. I would love to have more time to write, more successful outcomes and the financial security to become a full-time writer.’
Living in Dorset, amongst the beautiful Purbecks, Veronica (60) has also been involved with an amateur musical theatre society for the last 20 years, playing a wide range of roles including a manic depressive with suicidal tendencies and a nymphomaniac.
Although thrilled to have recently sold her first short story to Take a Break, Veronica says she finds writing short stories for magazines can be limiting because they have strict guidelines, and because the competition is so fierce.
‘More and more magazines seem to be concentrating on “real life” stories rather than fiction,’ she says. ‘I enjoy writing short stories for competitions as there is wider scope, and I would love to have the confidence to write a novel.
‘My mother was my first great influence. She encouraged a love of books in me and was herself very creative. She wrote little stories, mostly about animals, and illustrated them beautifully - just for her own pleasure, and ours. There are few better feelings than starting to read a book and knowing straight away you're going to love it - it's like sinking into a warm bath. I love reading about characters I care about and cannot bear to leave. At the moment I’m recommending “A Gathering Light” by Jennifer Donnelly to everyone. Also Maggie O'Farrell’s “After You'd Gone”, Patrick Gale’s “Notes from an Exhibition” and books by Anne Tyler, Anita Shreve and Jodi Picoult. Mark Haddon's “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” had me laughing and crying at the same time and I've recently read a couple of Nicci French books which completely deprived me of sleep and left me feeling I'd run a marathon. Oh, and I'd have to mention “The Time Traveler's Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger - brilliantly conceived.
'But most importantly I am lucky to have a very close relationship with my own daughter and find it easy to write from the heart when it comes to the bond between mother/child. I think if you can write from the heart, then you are more likely to engage the reader's emotions.'
Although she doesn’t buy celebrity magazines like Hello or OK!, Veronica admits to enjoying watching new talent emerging in shows such as “The X Factor” and “Any Dream Will Do”.
‘I have been completely hooked on all the series of “Strictly Come Dancing”,’ she says, ‘even though you've hardly heard of some of the “celebrities” to begin with. By the end you care passionately about the outcome, (yes, I voted!). I sulked for days after Austin Healey was voted off in the last series - a travesty! I'd love to work behind the scenes, finding out what goes on behind the celebrity facade, how they see themselves, how they treat people on the way up and on the way down, do they believe that fame will last, what will they become if it doesn't?’
It was from watching the various TV 'star seeking' programmes that Veronica got the inspiration for her story, ‘Losing Abby’.
‘It was witnessing young, inexperienced and often emotionally unstable contestants finding an outlet for their talent, coping with the adulation and the “red carpet” lifestyle. I was also thinking of a girl I know who sang in the local Church choir and at school, who was quite clearly destined for greater things - given the tenacity and the opportunities.
‘A short story of 1000 words can really only be a snapshot, so if I was expanding 'Losing Abby' into a novel there would obviously be development of plot and characters, and more back story. Also, I would want to introduce different viewpoints whereas the short story was all told from her mother's viewpoint. Behind the scenes as Abby's meteoric rise to stardom explodes, TV interviews etc. The existing characters need to be fleshed out, and you'd need Abby's father - Jack - who is only briefly mentioned, to play more of an important role. Also Tim's parents - their involvement, and reaction to Tim's suicide. How does Abby's mother reconcile all this with her faith? Clearly, there would also need to be some conflict to be overcome - perhaps an illness affecting Abby's voice?’
If the story was to become a film, would she have any stars in mind for the main roles?
‘Sorry, no - but maybe it would give new talent a chance: perhaps we could have a reality TV show called “Finding Abby”?’