On Writing ‘Joe’ – Jeanette Sheppard

My story ‘Joe’ grew out of a photograph and a question.

The image was of a boy and girl holding hands in a meadow. Immediately I thought of them as brother and sister. What caused them to stop holding hands? If there’s a question in my head I believe there’s the chance of a story. Conflict and tension (two essentials for a short story, in my view) were inherent in the question, so I now had enough to trigger my imagination.

I’m not a planner, I like to write a first draft quickly and see where I end up. I know that isn’t the case for all writers but for me one of the biggest thrills about writing is leaping into the unknown. As I wrote the opening paragraph intrigue emerged: there was a third sibling and something had caused a rift between the remaining two. I’m interested in the commonly held belief that age brings wisdom and as the early paragraphs evolved I realised I was creating siblings who were stuck in the past, almost refusing to become adults. They met every year but they barely spoke to one another and they certainly didn’t talk about the past. This was a story about the unsaid.

I now had a focus for the story. I asked myself questions as I continued to write, still unaware what the event was that had happened in the past to trigger the friction in the sibling’s relationship.  As I said, I’m not a planner. What I uncovered as I wrote was a tragic moment that reverberated throughout the sibling’s relationship for over forty years. I developed the idea so that it wasn’t just the event itself that tore the siblings apart, it was also a secret held between them. The tragedy and the aftermath had informed the rest of their lives  – the narrator had buried herself in the work on the family farm and her sibling had escaped into journalism and alcoholism.

I wrote a number of drafts and changed the title but the shape and focus of the story didn’t change. The biggest alteration was perhaps that the siblings became sisters, no longer the boy and girl from the photograph. In hindsight I think I always wanted the siblings to be sisters and I’m not sure why I left it so long to change their gender. A question triggered the story but even after the story has been published there are questions I still don’t know the answer to.

Jeanette Sheppard is currently working on a collection of flash fiction. Her work has been published in the 2016 and 2014 National Flash Fiction Day anthology and online in Litro Magazine and The Lonely Crowd. She was a winner of Mslexia’s monthly Flashcard and has been short-listed for The Fish Flash Fiction Prize and The Short Story’s monthly competition (in both the flash fiction and short story categories). She has also been long-listed for the Bare Fiction Flash Fiction Prize and Flash500. She lives in the Midlands and can be found on Twitter @InkLinked.

You can read ‘Joe’ in Issue Six of The Lonely Crowd, which may be purchased here.

The Lonely Crowd has been shortlisted for Best Magazine at the annual Saboteur Awards, please consider voting for us here.

Copyright © Jeanette Sheppard, 2017. Image © Jo Mazelis, 2017.