How I write short stories – Callie Hill

Today I’m delighted to welcome Callie Hill onto my blog. I had the pleasure of mentoring Callie through the Womentoring Project and she’s a super talented writer as well as a lovely person. I’m so proud of everything she has achieved since, degrees are such hard work, and now she’s published her first short story collection. I’ll hand over to Callie to share how and why she writes.

Like many readers, books and stories feel like a magical world I can escape to. No matter what kind of story, I’m always intrigued as to the initial spark that inspired the writer, and how that spark ignited into the words on the page. This is what gave me the idea for how I’ve structured my collection of linked short stories, The Story Collector. Although each story can be read individually, the collection follows a writer, Colin, as he goes about his everyday life, collecting snapshots of inspiration for his stories. The characters are all people that Colin is connected to in some way, and minor characters from one story become the central character in another. 

But I didn’t start out with this intention. My collection began as a way to bring together everything I’d written. I’ve recently completed a BA (Hons) in English Literature with the Open University, and as part of my degree I completed two creative writing modules. I’ve also been a student with the Writers’ Bureau, so between the various courses I’d written a fair number of stories. The first draft of the collection also included stories by my husband, Paul, who writes under the pseudonym of James Kirby. He’s a chartered engineer with limited company status, and has been furloughed on minimum wage since March 2020 and as I work for him, so have I. We’re in the group of people that have slipped under the net, with furlough payments being a very small fraction of his ordinary income; but what should have been a tough time for us has turned out to be one of the best times of our lives. We might be living off love and fresh air at the moment, but we’ve also had the time to chillax and write. Our youngest son is a writer too, so it’s quite the little Bloomsbury headquarters in our house at the moment. But Paul’s writing style is quite different to mine and when the original collection came back from the beta readers (who were totally amazing) we decided to publish our stories separately. 

As I worked on the revised collection, I started to notice links between characters and places. I guess most writers include an element of what they know, and this is even more true for new writers. For most of my life I’ve either been at home with the kids as a full-time mum (we have four children), or worked in an office, and I think that comes through in my characterisation. Most of the stories are uplifting tales of kindness, friendship, and the maternal bond between a mother and child; but some of the stories have a menacing element. I’ve been a book blogger for about four years now, and devour psychological thrillers like there’s no tomorrow. A couple of years ago I was really lucky to have been mentored by the wonderful psychological thriller writer, Louise Jensen, under the Womentoring Scheme; and more recently my tutor at the Writers’ Bureau was the fantastic crime writer, Sheila Bugler – so this has no doubt influenced the darker side of my stories! 

I also wanted to develop the character of Colin from the short story titled ‘Literature, Latte, and Love’. As a creative writing student, I was encouraged to keep a writing journal to jot down any snapshots of inspiration. My own notebook is a purple Moleskine that my youngest son bought me. As well as being an object of extreme beauty (swoons #stationerylove) this notebook is of great sentimental value. As I flicked through, looking for ideas on how to develop the character of Colin, I realised it was the journal itself that was providing the inspiration. I’d already used some of the ideas in the journal for my stories; and in some cases, I’d taken completely separate jottings and combined them to create a single story. However, I realised that every single snapshot of an idea that I’d written down was connected, because they were all ideas that had been filtered through myself – and if that was true for my own writing journal, then it could be for Colin too. 

I think social media has made a lot of people realise what a small world we live in. People we know from one area of our lives often have a connection to another person we know. I started to research chains of acquaintance and how we are only an average of six people away from the next person. The Russian dolls on the cover of The Story Collector are metaphorical. The correct name for these dolls is ‘Matryoshka’ and comes from the Latin word, ‘mater’ – which means mother in English.  They represent fertility, family, and maternity – which runs as a theme throughout my stories. Their linking structure is also representative of the collection as a whole. The dolls look like one thing from the outside, but when you take them apart there are lots of individual parts inside. The Story Collector is a bit like this in reverse; although each story can be read as a stand-alone, when read in sequence they all come together to give a combined novel-like feel and show how we are all linked through chains of acquaintance.

As well as being an entertaining set of stories, I really hope The Story Collector will inspire other new writers to find ideas as they go about their everyday life. Although my own ideas for each of the stories came from totally different places to Colin’s (the Story Collector café was inspired by the bookshelf in my local pub – no spoilers intended), writing Colin’s story has made me think about creating ideas for future stories. And my writing journal will definitely be accompanying me as I enter the next phase of my writing career, where I will be working on a domestic thriller as part of an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Bristol. 

Download a copy of The Story Collector between 1st-7th September for just 99p from Amazon. It can also be ordered from any bookshop (Find here at Waterstones.) It is available in hardback, paperback, and e-book.

You can also read The Story Collector via Kindle Unlimited.