You can find the audio version of this excellent interview with Mary on our podcast host here https://www.buzzsprout.com/507109/9726008
available on all podcast sites like Apple and Spotify.
Welcome to the episode 1 of the Perito Prize Podcast 2021. A special podcast series all about celebrating the writing and creativity for this year’s Perito Prize & Anthology.
In this episode we’ve got Mary Darroch joining us from Glasgow. Mary wrote the winning story for the Perito Prize 2021 called ‘Magic Bus’ which can be found Journal section of the Perito website and was selected by the judges as the winner for this year.
Welcome to the podcast Mary, congratulations on Magic Bus winning and just before we start how about a quick warm up question?
Q1) Tell us a little about who your creative inspiration or mentor is and why? This might be a favourite author or place to work.
I find creative inspiration everywhere – usually when I am not looking for it! People inspire me, places inspire me, situations inspire me.
I grew up in Glasgow, in a big family, and I think I must have spent most of my childhood reading! When I was about eight I read Little Women and right there and then decided that I was going to be like Jo March and write books. I filled school jotters with stories but I kept them under my bed and never showed them to anyone. I suppose I was just too shy. As I grew older I read Jane Eyre – 12 times! – and Wuthering Heights and all the dark and moody gothic novels I could find in the local library. Eventually, I moved on to the Russian writers (again, dark and moody!) and folk like James Joyce who were inventive and experimental with language.
I think I was always drawn to the idea of ‘the outsider,’ the character who is at odds with the rest of the world. In 1994, Mark Haddon’s best-seller, The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-time, struck a chord with me as did Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman’s 2017 debut novel about a socially isolated young woman who lacks the self-awareness to recognise that indeed she is not ‘completely fine.’ Both these books left me muttering to myself afterwards that, damn, I wish I’d written this so yes, they were inspirational, and motivational.
Q2) Righto, tell us about who you are and what you have been up to during the pandemic period?
Being in my 60’s I suppose I’m a bit older than most beginners, although in a sense I’m not really a beginner. I’ve been writing all my life but as I said, I lacked the confidence to do anything with it.
I worked at a variety of jobs over my lifetime but when I was forty I became an English teacher. That might sound like the ideal job for a wannabe writer but by the end of a teaching day you’re mostly just too tired to think creative thoughts!
Unfortunately, I had to retire early on health grounds and I thought then about returning to writing but I got sidetracked with other hobbies and interests and it was only really when the pandemic struck that my priorities started to change. Like everyone else, I was spending long hours at home, at times feeling quite isolated. It got me thinking about what it must be like for people who live their whole lives like that: whatever the reason, it was rarely through choice.
I’d thought for a while about enrolling in a creative writing class but had never done anything about it because I felt anxious every time I thought about having to read my work out loud! So, when I saw that Strathclyde University had moved their creative writing classes online, I thought I’d give it a go as I wouldn’t have to read stuff out or feel awkward and it would all be kind of anonymous.
Well, actually it wasn’t like that at all! Everyone was very friendly and extremely supportive. We all learned a great deal from each other and the best thing about it was that I was so busy writing assignments and reading and commenting on everyone else’s work that I didn’t have time to feel awkward about sharing my stuff. It really was a turning-point for me and I have my excellent tutor David and everyone
on the Blaze course 2020-21 to thank for that!
Q3) What made you enter the prize and how did you find out about it?
I think that what’s been happening in the world over the last two years has changed every one of us. We have all had to dig deep and find inner resources to keep ourselves afloat – and sane. During times of conflict and hardship, you might hear that creative voice whispering to you that it wants out. Maybe it was the daily news updates that I was trying to escape from, maybe it was just that I had more time on my hands after the creative writing course ended, but I found myself looking online for writing projects. I had been shortlisted for the Creative Future Writers Award a couple of months before, which came as a complete surprise to me as I had never entered anything before!
Buoyed up by this, and keen also not to ‘go off the boil’ with no more classes to attend, when notification of the Perito Prize appeared in my email , I just went for it. I liked the fact that we were being invited to write about things that really mattered to us, and also that it actively encouraged new writers.
Q4) Some people may not yet have read your story yet. Tell us about what ‘Magic Bus’ is all about?
‘Magic Bus’ is about two young people caught in the poverty trap . As the story opens Mick, the cheery optimist with a drug habit, tells his best buddy Shona that he has a job interview coming up but that he doesn’t have the right clothes. Shona, it seems, can help him with this. The story is light-hearted and amusing but, on a deeper level, it endeavours to show how society is set up to ensure that if you’re
poor, you’re destined to stay that way. I wanted to make people think about what life can be like for those who live every day – not just during a pandemic, but every day of their lives – without choice, without opportunity, without hope. At its heart though, is the theme of friendship and mutual support. Without that, maybe we would all be
Q5) Dialect and slang like Mick’s is often religiously avoided by writers across the world but in Magic Bus you make it look easy and enchanting. Have the voices of Mick and Shona always been chatting away to you or did they require a bit of nurturing to get them to the back seat of the bus?
Ha, well I imagine Mick and Shona on the FRONT seat of the bus, looking out at the road ahead. I don’t know about you but I feel that this attitude might one day stand them in good stead. I hope so anyway.
Yes, the voices of Mick and Shona have always been in there in my head, along with a few of their friends and relatives! I’m glad you picked up on the idea of their voices because they are indeed loud and brash and they demand to be heard. They speak in colloquial Lowlands Scots-English – a Glasgow dialect that I hear all around me. Sometimes it’s harsh, sometimes it can sound like music to my ears. Writing in
dialect can be a tricky thing: what you don’t want is to obstruct the flow of the work or make it difficult for the reader to follow. When Irvine Welsh wrote Trainspotting, I believe many American readers struggled with the language, but if you read it aloud it sounds like poetry – it has a beat and a cadence to it that becomes an integral part
of the story. From the very beginning, I had Mick and Shona speak in dialect because it instantly conveyed something about who they were, where they came from and what their lives were like. It was almost a kind of shorthand in that I could convey a great deal about them within the 2000 word limit.
Q6) As you know the Perito Prize is dedicated to inclusion, access and inclusive environments. Did you find the topic difficult to write about?
If we have the will to look, we can see discrimination, inequality and injustice all around us so no, it is not difficult to write about these things but it CAN be difficult to know where to start if we want to make a difference. This is where I think the Perito Prize plays an important role. Perito provides writers with the opportunity to give a voice to those who cannot always speak up for themselves. It gives writers the scope to examine what it is to be a human being with all its failings. It invites us to challenge the status quo and to try
to make a difference.
Q7) What was most valuable about going through this writing process for you?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, the Perito Prize is so appealing because it is accessible to all who wish to enter. For the writer just starting out, it’s important to feel that you can just ‘give it a go’ and not worry about how it looks or what people will think. Writing on this particular topic – inclusion – also made me focus more keenly on what it was I really wanted to say. Having something to say is half the
battle in writing!
Q8) Finally, any recommendations/tips for people entering next year?
Apparently, a short story of 2000 words takes the average person about 15 minutes to read. In that time, you want to make sure that your story actually comes across the way you want it to. So, you need to be clear from the outset what it is you want to say.
Then edit. Edit edit edit. You’ll see your story start to take shape. Be like Michelangelo, hacking away at the marble till the shape emerges. Then fine tune it. Two thousand words are vying for attention. Make sure every word is doing something useful. If it isn’t, dump it. Be prepared to ‘kill your darlings’.
Remember that writing is liberating. Don’t be afraid. Just take that leap into the unknown, And don’t bother about what other people think – it will only hold you back. It’s a feeling like no other when you finally get it finished. You’ve done your best for it and now you can watch it fly off and start a new life of its own!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mary and it’s been lovely to find out more about you, Mick and Shona’s dad. But now it is time to sign off and tell listeners about the upcoming Anthology, available from Amazon around the world and all profits will be going to a nominated charity, the rest covers Amazon’s costs.
Thanks again to our special guest Mary Darroch, author of the Perito Prize winning short story ‘Magic Bus’.You’ve been tuning in to the Perito Prize 2021 Podcast – Special Edition.
Thanks for listening. Everyone…Everywhere.