by Clementine E. Burnley
I think about my time as a Reader in Residence as being in an engine room. Instead of shovelling coal or checking pressure gauges, I spent time with stories. It was great to encounter a new piece of writing and to have no idea who had written it. I noticed a sense of anticipation. This story could be the next Smokelong Quarterly story.
As a writer, I am familiar with rejection, so having someone’s story in my care felt like a heavy responsibility. I read each story several times before coming to a decision. Luckily it was never up to my taste alone. Working in a reading team meant the story would get a chance to be looked at by someone else. I read just over two hundred flash pieces in three months. During those months, I saw a lot of stories I liked.
I like to check for patterns. When a story didn’t make it, I took note of the reasons. I went back through the rejections, looked at the choices that other readers and editors made. Since different stories fit different publications, I studied the difference between a Smokelong Quarterly story and the rest. One of the stories I liked will be in Issue 72 of Smokelong Quarterly. I feel a personal sense of satisfaction. That surprised me a little.
I’d recommend being a reader to any writer who wants to improve how they write. I was exposed to a range of opinions on why one story works and the other doesn’t. I attended some fantastic readings by writers whose work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly. After three months spent looking at the nuts and bolts of writing, I think I have a better awareness of the range of writing styles. I am pretty sure being a better reader will help me become a better writer. And if it doesn’t, I still got to read a lot of stories.
Clementine E. Burnley grew up in Victoria, Cameroon and Glasgow. In 2018 she was selected by Chimamanda Adiche to attend the Purple Hibiscus Trust Workshop in Lagos, Nigeria. She’s received a Second Life Grant from the Edwin Morgan Foundation to make work about colonial connections and friendships. Clementine has been shortlisted for various short story and flash fiction competitions, most recently the Amsterdam Open Book Prize 2020. Her most recent work appears in the 2020 anthology For the Love of Trees, the 2020 UK National Flash Fiction Anthology, and Barren Magazine. When she’s not writing, Clementine is a mother, process facilitator and community builder. – IG @ewokila, Twitter @decolonialheart, Facebook: Clementine E. Burnley.