Today we are celebrating Susan O’Neal. Since Deadlines for Writers started in 2017, many of our writers have gone on to publish and accomplish great things with their writing. The Prompt to Publication emails are all about celebrating these writers and their wonderful stories.
I hope these interviews will help and teach you how to use Deadlines for Writers to build your author platform.
Author feature: I’d like to introduce Susan O’Neal
Have you completed any of the challenges on Deadlines for Writers?
Susan O’Neal: I certainly have! I’m in my sixth year of the Short Story Challenge. I began writing a story each month for practice in 2018, while I was on a Creative Writing course, and although I graduated in 2021 I was hooked – I haven’t missed a month yet.
What have you published?
Susan O’Neal: I have published two books of short stories, ‘A Jumble of Good Intentions’ in 2021 and the second ‘but how does it end?’ this year.
Has Deadlines for Writers helped you as a writer?
Susan O’Neal: Without a doubt. Amongst other things, taking part in the challenge has meant I have a considerable stock of stories, short and long, some are a bit scruffy but others I’m really proud of.
What did you learn that you applied to your story?
Susan O’Neal: Writing to a monthly prompt has been hugely helpful for me. I know now that I can produce a reasonable piece of work on almost any subject, which has developed my confidence as a writer. I also have the luxury of reading the work of so many different and wonderful writers, all stimulated by the same prompt – the range of ideas and skills shared on Deadlines for Writers is very inspiring.
Yes, the discipline of turning in a submission each month is really important for me. Sometimes the prompt is easy to develop but other times I might not warm to it at once – and the word count can sometimes be a real challenge! I appreciate the safe space to try out all sorts of styles of writing, to see what happens, knowing fellow writers will comment.
Feedback from the group really helps to understand what worked (and what didn’t) and I value every comment I receive from the group.
I learned very quickly that you have to Get_On_With_It. You have to make a start, get something written, in order to be able to have the time to polish and edit a story to a professional standard by the deadline. I’m stretching my writing muscles all the time and learning new ways to be creative.
What is your favourite story you wrote for 12SS?
Susan O’Neal: The Levellers is one of my favourites, written for the August 2019 prompt ‘Workbench’. I had been experimenting with writing fantasy and tried to blend a historical setting with an interesting story about believable people, using dialogue to develop and demonstrate character. It’s a serious piece without the humour that usually creeps into my writing and I’m pleased with the way it reads.
Susan had two poems published in a local paper when she was 14 and dreamt of becoming a writer. Momentarily distracted by her family and working life, it’s only now she is retired that she can concentrate on that ambition. Graduating with a First in Creative Writing from the Open University in the UK in 2021, Susan has sold a number of stories and poems and has published two volumes of short stories. Susan is happily married, with lots of grandchildren and lives in London.
Read an excerpt from Susan‘s story, Beware the Thunder.
Did that egg wobble, or did I imagine it? The movement had been so subtle, I wasn’t sure. Were my eyes playing tricks? I stared hard, waiting. Nothing happened.
It was early on Friday evening and I was in the kitchen, waiting for Neil to finish mucking about at the sink, so I could prepare the vegetables for supper. Dragging my eyes away from the heaped basket of eggs in the corner, I was about to chivvy Neil, get him to hurry up, when out of the corner of my eye I did see something move. My head snapped round and I took a step closer to the worktop.
‘Neil. Did you see that?’
‘See what?’ he said, drying his hands on the towel. I noticed he hadn’t made a very good job of the hand washing, there was a muddy smear on the white cotton.
‘There’s something in the egg basket, making the eggs jiggle,’ I said.
‘What sort of something?’
‘I don’t know, because – there it is again!’ I shrieked.
‘For goodness sake, woman, get a grip,’ said Neil, doing that comical thing where he sticks his finger in his ear and pokes about, pretending he’s been deafened. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘There’s definitely something in with the eggs. I bet it’s a mouse. I hate mice-’ I was backing away, looking for a chair to stand on, to get out of the way.
Neil knows me of old. I was heading for hysterics because I really don’t like mice. Or spiders. Or snakes. Anything that moves jerkily, and in my direction, will have me screaming in a trice.
‘Go and stand over by the door,’ he said. ‘I’ll sort it out.’
He took my place by the counter and reached in towards the basket of eggs.
‘I can’t see anything in here except eggs,’ he began. ‘Oh, wait, what’s this?’
He picked up one egg which was a little larger than the others and had a bit of a crack down one side.
‘D’you think we’ve got a chick in this one?’ he laughed, waving it at me. He stopped laughing when the crack widened and a pointed blue snout poked out. He dropped the egg and leapt backwards, joining me at the back door. The egg had broken in half and in the ruins was a tiny blue animal with a long nose, webbed feet and a thin snaking tail. It blinked its amber eyes once, flicked its tail and then stretched, just like a cat. It unfurled two leathery wings and jumped into Neil’s hair. Startled, Neil lost his balance and sat down heavily, reaching up to dislodge the intruder.
‘What is it? Can you see it?’ He was flailing wildly, batting at his head with alternate hands.
‘Steady on, you’ll squash it.’
He lowered his hands.
‘You’re not helping. Could you come and have a look?’ he said.
His voice had a begging, whimpering quality to it, but there was no chance I was going anywhere near. I shook my head mutely.
‘I think it’s nipping me or something. You gotta come and help. Oh no – watch out-’
I turned to see what he was pointing at. Other eggs had cracked and disgorged their contents. There was a whizzing noise thrumming around us. Four miniature blue somethings circled my head before diving in formation down towards Neil. A moment later they landed. There was one on his ear, one on an eyebrow and the other two had sunk into his hair, like the first one.
Neil grunted and passed out, sliding sideways and whacking his head on the floor. I was battling not to do the same, my heart was thumping in my chest and every tendon in my body had tightened, so that I felt practically incapable of moving. But this was Neil and I had to do something. I extended my leg and nudged him with one toe.
‘Neil,’ I hissed. ‘Neil. You okay?’
He blinked and shook his head groggily.
‘Mgrrrumph,’ he said and slowly pushed himself into a sitting position. ‘What happened?’
‘I think you fainted. How do you feel?’
‘I feel like I smacked my head on the floor, what do you expect?’ He was grumpy. I didn’t blame him.
The five flying somethings had lifted themselves out of his hair and were flying round his head, for all the world like a cartoon meme. He brushed them away and they flew in an elegant arc up to the toaster and arranged themselves in a line.
‘What on earth are they?’ said Neil, shuffling backwards slowly on his bottom to join me at the back door.
‘I think – they might be dragons,’ I said uncertainly.
‘There’s no such thing.’
‘No,’ I said, looking at them. ‘Of course not.’
‘What we need,’ said Neil, ‘is that chap from Dergum Industries. You know, the chap who-’
I nodded. I knew who he meant. The chap who had turned up out of nowhere last Wednesday. We’d had a bit of a triffid situation in our garden. He had arrived, complete with dark glasses and a case of flying mechanical insects to deal with the infestation – we thought he was like something from a scifi movie at the time.
Fifteen short stories with compelling characters, touches of humour and unexpected plot twists. Meet the enthusiastic Mr Platt who’s struggling with his first teaching role, the frog who doesn’t want to be a prince and the people grappling with extraordinary occurrences in their suburban homes. There is something for everyone between these pages: mystery and history, family life and fairy stories, spells and business hints, presented in tales of magical realism, fantasy and romance.
Twelve whimsical short stories to keep you entertained.
Well done, Susan!
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