Rebecca Constable’s growing confidence
Rebecca’s prizewinning piece for the Young Creative Awards is deceptively simple. Her powerful writing demonstrates that less is more. What the interview with her reveals is that writing is at least 90% thinking and 10% doing. It also shows that you do not need flamboyant or extraordinary prose set in extravagant worlds to provide something that has tremendous impact. This is writing that comes from personal experience, which is always a useful thing to draw on as a writer. Most importantly of all and something which really leaps out at you from the words is that it comes from the heart, one of the most powerful ways to create writing that makes people stop and think.
Tell me about yourself
I’m in my first year of theatre design at Nottingham Trent University. I did 2 BTEC level 3 extended diplomas in performing arts and art and design which I received triple star distinction in both. But, apart from my GCSEs I haven’t done any English. I’ve always liked doing creative writing, but I’ve never shown anyone my work until I entered the competition. I also have dyslexia.
Tell me about your degree.
We learn about lighting, costumes, costume-making and props. We pick which one we want to specialise in, then look at the scripts and create a world around those scripts.
I go on work placement this year and get to go into theatres to see how the work is done first hand. This means I can see how the work I have done on the degree fits into the work in the theatre.
The piece you wrote for the competition described the character entirely through dialogue. I have a real problem with reading scripts, because I’m someone who reads novels and stories. I find the world scripts describe very difficult to get into because it’s all dialogue with a minimum of description. You don’t seem to have a problem with this at all.
Scripts get straight to the point. You have no idea what the character looks like when you start reading it, but the more you read what they’re saying the more you can make that up in your head.
I find reading a book much more difficult because there’s so much about what’s happening in the world the book’s set in, and what the character looks like that there’s a lot to take in. But I do like them both because they work in different ways.
The fact that you haven’t done English at A-level but have a background in performing arts is interesting because your winning piece, particularly as it is being presented as a video, is like a performance.
I wanted to keep all the words really simple and the ideas easy for people to read. I put the story together bit by bit, because I didn’t initially see it in its final form as one complete piece.
It was really about my life experiences. So, because a lot of things have happened to me, I thought it was better to write it in sections, like pieces of memory.
How did you find out about the competition?
It came through on my school e-mail. I must have missed it the first time round because it said “It’s still not too late to enter.”
A lot of people write from their own experiences, which is what you’ve done. How many drafts did you do to get it right?
I did two drafts. I actually was under pressure for time because I only found out about the competition two weeks before the deadline. When I first wrote it, the story started out very differently. Then I thought about it quite a bit and decided to leave the words there, but with a strikethrough so they looked crossed out. That’s when the piece really came together.
Although it is a short piece I had to do a lot of checking, using the spellchecker on the computer to make sure there weren’t any spelling mistakes, because of my dyslexia. That did take a long time.
The video of your winning entry is very effective. Did you know your writing would be made into a video?
I had no idea my writing was going to be made into a video. It was part of the presentation for the awards. It was played after I collected my award, so I got quite a surprise when they started playing it to the audience. Confetti films, which is part of the Institute of Creative Technologies, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, made it.
The video was a really great way of showing my writing how I did it, which was to show what used to happen when I wrote when I was younger. Back then my books were just full of crossings-out because I made so many mistakes. That was where I got the idea to cross out words, particularly because of the way I felt when I had to correct myself. I actually sent the writing with the crossings-out through the words.
I did this all on the computer. I don’t like to write by hand because it takes me a long time and is hard work. A keyboard makes it so much easier for me to write, because spelling is much more difficult if I write by hand and takes a lot of concentration to get right. I can be writing a word that’s taking a long time and when I’ve finished it I’ll completely lose where I’m going. The computer will autocorrect the words and I can carry on writing without losing track of what I want to say.
School work is now largely done on a computer and submitted electronically and the same thing happens for my degree, so this really helps.
You’ve written a really personal piece, revealing in great detail how having dyslexia has made you feel and how you’ve worked out how to get round it, particularly psychologically. How did writing this piece make you feel, knowing that a lot of people would be looking at it because you were entering a competition?
It was really scary. I wrote some of it, then went home for the weekend where I thought I’d show my mum and dad some of it. I’d never really talked very much with them about how I had felt. But when I got home I just couldn’t show them my writing. So I had to go back to Nottingham, where I e-mailed it to them saying “Don’t phone me until you’ve read it”.
Once they’d read it and said it was okay, I felt it was all right to send my writing in to the competition.
But I was really scared about letting anyone see it.
Was it more that you were worried about the world knowing you had dyslexia, or that you were just not sure you wanted people to see your writing?
Both. Although knowing that everyone would see my writing scared me the most. My friends have never seen any writing I’ve done for my coursework and have no idea I do the kind of writing I did for the competition.
Your writing style is very interesting because most people feel when they write that the more they write the better it is. You’ve kept your writing very tight and to a minimum. Was that something that came naturally?
It was really hard to know when to finish it. When I was younger my drama teacher always told us “You need to know when to finish something and finish it right, because if you carry on it’ll all start to sound rubbish”. I realised if I kept going on with my writing it would become really boring.
What sort of assignments do you have to do for your degree?
Most of the assignments are spoken and are practical. We have a lot of one-to-one sessions with tutors who help you form the assignment. I often send the tutor half a page of writing and if they’re happy with it I carry on.
Why did you want to enter the competition?
I’ve always wanted to enter a competition. But I either didn’t like the theme or I just felt I didn’t know what I was doing, or I had to pay to enter it. When I saw this competition pop up in my e-mails I finally decided I would try it. Because of my degree I thought I would enter an art category, but I decided the creative writing category interested me more.
I actually find it much easier to describe something than draw it. When something’s drawn everyone sees it the same way. When you write something it may be your description, but the reader is making the descriptions up in their head and each person may see a different thing. I’ve always thought creative writing is more like a different art form.
Now you’ve entered this writing competition, do you think you’ll enter another one?
Definitely. Entering the competition has made me want to experiment more with writing. Over the summer I’ve been trying to write something longer like a novel. I’ve been experimenting with different ideas, like where the story’s set and the different characters in it.
I’m interested in what we’re doing to the world now and what that will mean for the future. We’re polluting our world now and killing it. So what’s going to happen because we’re not taking care of our planet? As I’ve written I’ve found the characters have been coming to life in my head.
How does this work?
I have a general idea of the story I want to write and then I see a moment in the writing and see the characters moving around in it. I’m also interested in how they’re thinking.
I’m not influenced by anyone particularly and my writing is coming straight out of my head.
Would you have thought about trying to write a novel before you entered the competition?
I did think about it and tried to write a little, but kept giving up. Now I’ve written for a competition I’ve got the confidence to keep trying, even if what I’m doing isn’t working out straight away.