“Talent is not enough to be a good writer”: Anthea Paelo

In 2013, the Short Story Prize was unprecedented, what encouraged you to submit to it?

I have always wanted to be writer and by the time I submitted, I was turning 24 and had not really given writing a real try other than a few scattered scribbles. The contest was uniquely Ugandan and it felt like it was targetted for me. I remember thinking, “Anthea if you don’t try this, you might never get the opportunity again.”

Your winning story, Picture Frames, is a very intense tale on how a couple deals with their son’s sexuality and eventual suicide. How would you say writing shapes your perspectives, if at all?

I think a lot of my perspectives are shaped by the books I read as well as by daily experiences. What writing does is help me understand what those perspectives are and why they are what they are.

The writer you were in 2013, and the writer you are in 2017, what has changed?

A number of things. Firstly, I’ve come to realise that talent is not enough to be a good writer. The fact that I wrote a one or two good essays in high school does not make me a writer. Good writing is hard work. It requires constant revision and discipline. I have had to to be deliberate about writing and ignore the notion of muses. Interestingly, I find that my love for writing has grown more in spite of this. Secondly, I think these days I am writing more as a journey of self discovery rather than to send a message. I am not so concerned about teaching as I am about learning. I am exploring feelings and observations and attempting to do so clearly and fluidly. I think it is part of my journey as a writer. I might move on from this in a year or two but right now I am enjoying where I am.

What was the last book you read that you would recommend and why?

Alice Walker’s “The Colour Purple”. What a gorgeous book! The writing was so effortless, the characters so vivid and memorable. And the strength of the women! You know “The Colour Purple” is a sad book. And there were points that I had to stop for a bit and just feel. But the strength and diversity of the women depicted stayed with me. I enjoyed their rebelliousness and that they didn’t fit into any particular box. I have since continued to read other books by Alice Walker and have continued to feel such a sisterhood. I don’t always agree with her but I can’t fault the way she tells her stories.

What would you look for in this year’s entries?

This is difficult. I am not actually sure. I do know, I am not so concerned about the uniqueness of the subject matter only that the story is well-written. That it is clear and coherent, with the right words in just the right places.

Deadline for submission to the Short Story Prize is 31 March 11:59pm GMT