Wednesday 22 May 2019

Gordon Square Review Editorial Mentorship

I'd just received my first ever acceptance letter for Forever Yours, Mr Carter, and in a spontaneous burst of motivation, decided to start right away on my second piece. I knew from the get-go exactly where I was going to take it, which is a rare occurrence and also a blessing. A doll, I thought, will definitely have to ruin someone's life. Isn't that what all dolls do?

Somehow, it took me just three days to write my original draft, make any last-minute revisions and send it off to publications. I'll be incredibly lucky to have a turnaround as quick in future. Originally titled ‘Farewell, Elizabeth’, the piece slipped out of my mind whilst it mulled in inboxes. For my previous piece, I’d spent every minute of every day checking its progress, but this utterly drained me.  I forced myself to sit back and relax. If you know me well, you’ll know this is something I rarely do.

It reached the end of March and Laura Walter contacted me. Her email promised not only publication in Issue Four of her journal, the Gordon Square Review, but an editorial mentorship on top of that. Editorial mentorships are offered to three writers during an issue's submission period - with an editor, you work together to polish up your draft and you’ll learn a hell of a lot during the process. Not only was I extremely flattered, but utterly shocked. I wasn't expecting it at all. I cried a little that night.

The mentorship lasted for just short of two months, and my word, have I taken a lot away from the experience. I was surprised that little change was required within my piece - we just added a few sentences here and there, supporting the transition from scene to scene and the overall fluidity of the piece. Reflections, being as short as it is, didn't take too long to 'perfect' - (I put 'perfect' in quotation marks, as my piece is literally based on the idea that nothing can be just that).

The ending was something that took me a lot of time to feel happy with, though. I originally cut it off too harshly - in the first draft, the last sentence was just 'Farewell, Elizabeth', hence its previous title. When I first wrote the piece, I think I rushed things a little. I didn't want the ending to drag on or lose its impact. Quite possibly, I may have been excited with its progress and I just wanted to send it off. So, I just whacked a snappy sentence on the end and hoped for the best.

Laura suggested we change the title, as it would give away the plot before the piece had even been read. I am partial to a bit of a twist, let's say, so it was vital I corrected this. I wanted the reader to feel the full force of the tale playing out before them, and so, we eventually settled on 'Reflections'. This ties in with the mirror imagery found throughout the whole piece. It links more to the narrator than the doll - although it may appear Elizabeth is the subject, she's really not. She's that factor that brings the harsh reality to light, but it's the narrator who bears the brunt of this. There's a scene in the piece that tells of the narrator looking at herself in the mirror, comparing her looks to Elizabeth's. This is a key metaphor, ladies and gents. Take note.

I suppose the whole purpose of this story is to highlight the damaging ideals currently weaved throughout society. My generation, in its mad social media storm, seems to be obsessed with visual perfection, disregarding substance and all that makes up a person. It'd be hypocritical of me to say I don't take care of myself; I eat well, wear make-up and practically live at the gym. However, it's when these ideals are taken too far, stretched beyond their limits, that real individuals and their fragile feelings get damaged beyond repair.

I wanted to take the narrator on a journey, from being an innocent girl to an insecure, self-aware one. It's inevitable that every single child will meet the darker side of the world at some point, and in this case, Elizabeth was the catalyst for the narrator's awakening. The doll, being a symbol of fake beauty, invades her world, forcing her to question herself and everything that makes her her. Elizabeth isn't real, though, and this is what the narrator simply doesn't understand. Elizabeth's been designed, crafted and painted. Her beauty is not real!

I'm grateful that as a 2002 baby, I was able to live my childhood in pink tennis dresses, collecting My Littlest Pet Shop toys and prancing about with imaginary friends. I narrowly missed the social media craze - it only hit me when I was around thirteen. Just as Elizabeth is the tool for the narrator’s bittersweet revelations, social media is ours. It’s toxic. End of.

In my first draft, I deliberately made the narrator destroy Elizabeth as a symbol of her overcoming the jealousy she felt. After working with Laura, however, I came to understand that this wouldn't be possible. Something as jarring and traumatic would not be able to leave you so soon. What’s more, you wouldn’t have the capabilities to do so. And so, I felt it was necessary to show how the narrator continues to be affected by her encounter with the doll for many years to follow. Her experiences unleashed both physical and mental reactions she never expected to meet, and again, this is part of growing older. I don't think others fully appreciate just how hard this can be.

Since publishing Reflections, many have commented on how dark the piece is and how shocked they were at the narrator's actions. This was music to my ears! The piece was supposed to have an underlying tone of suspicion - it all sounds too good to be true in the first couple of paragraphs. By using the end scene, I'm able to show the narrator's pent-up hatred in a way that translates it clearly. It makes you think how many young children are fiercely envious of the dolls they’re playing with right now. Scary, no?

I was reading through some other mentorship essays in the Gordon Square Review and picked up the idea that many were concerned how much their piece would change. This was never an issue for me. Still being in education means that my work is constantly critiqued, and I seek out constructive feedback rather than hide from it. Laura taught me to look at my finished draft in a different light, and address things I'd neglected before: transitions, parallel imagery, hidden metaphors. The list goes on.

I'm so thankful to Laura, of course, for being quite possibly the best mentor I could've asked for. I also thank the Gordon Square Review and everyone behind the scenes of this publication, including Literary Cleveland, for making this possible.

Read Reflections in Issue Four of the Gordon Square Review.

                                                                          Image: Pixabay


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