Gregory Leadbetter, Reader in Literature and Creative Writing, takes a moment to talk to MA Creative Writing Student, Dan Witherall about the recent shortlisting of his short story submitted for the Bridport Short Story Prize 2017 – and how his studies at BCU have helped to develop his writing practise.
1: You made the shortlist for the Bridport Short Story Prize 2017 – a huge achievement that you must be incredibly proud of!
Why thank you. And this is solely down to my MA Fiction module, really. I worked closely with my then-tutor / now-mentor and friend Rhoda Greaves on each of my pieces. Rhoda really gave me the confidence to start sending my work to the more prestigious competitions out there. Honestly this is Rhoda’s achievement every bit as much as it is mine. Without her notes and guidance, I wouldn’t be within a hundred miles of where I’m at now, creatively speaking.
2: Can you tell me a little about the story you wrote and where you got the inspiration from?
It’s called Buzzcut. My narrator’s twin brother is suffering from cancer, and what we are seeing is he and their friends shaving their heads the night before they take a trip to Amsterdam. I’m really more interested in trying to focus on what I want the reader to feel as opposed to what I want to say, as a writer. My work is usually about trying to capture a moment; sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding. In the story, the camaraderie of the group falls flat when the electric shaver they’re using runs out of battery. That was the image that really kicked off the story for me.
3: What does it mean to you to have been shortlisted?
It means everything to me. Before the Fiction module in January, I only ever considered myself a screenwriter—I hadn’t written anything in prose in over ten years. All of my screenwriting achievements before this—I’ve sort of played down. But this is massive for me. It’s such an encouraging compliment.
4: How will this help you in the future?
Well, it certainly won’t hurt! It’s given me the confidence to explore fiction further as I apply for my PhD at BCU next year. And the feedback I’ve received for my screenwriting work has made me see that I’m ready to seek agency representatives in that field.
5: What support did you receive throughout the process?
It’s not necessarily the support I’ve received for this one thing. It’s the continued support I’ve had over the past two years, really. I feel like I’ve got a network of people that are all in my corner, all want me to succeed. It’s invaluable.
6: What has the MA in Creative Writing done to improve your writing skills and how is it helping you towards your future goals?
It’s started my writing career, really. It’s kickstarted my life. I had written my film before the MA, but since the course I’ve become far more competent. I simply wasn’t good enough before I took this course. Now, I feel like I’m heading towards something potentially great. I feel like I might even be able to offer something of value.
7: You are the co-writer of a feature film Lost Creek, now available to watch on Amazon Prime – can you tell me a little more about this?
I absolutely can. My filmmaking partner Colin Adams-Toomey came up with the idea. So I helped him develop the script and secure funding. We filmed it out in the States and then submitted it to festivals. It won awards at a few, which was lovely, and then thanks to the help of a producer I met at BCU, we managed to sell it to ten territories worldwide so far. It’s been great; we really didn’t expect anyone to care about it at all. We’ve kept our feet on the ground mainly due to being so shocked by it all—the only reason we found out it had even been released yet in the UK was because I was flicking through Amazon myself and stumbled upon it. So that was a humbling moment, I can tell you!
8: What would your advice be for future students who were thinking of joining the MA in Creative Writing?
Firstly I would say absolutely, do the MA in Creative Writing. If you can, take it part time over two years; really get the most out of it. And be prepared to work. Like seriously work. You’ll get out of it what you put in, so put in everything.